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GENEVA, June 22, 2018 (News Wires) - More than 200 migrants are reported to have drowned off Libya in two days, bringing to at least 1,000 the number to die this year on the main migratory route linking Africa and Europe, the UN said recently.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said in a statement it was “shocked” by the deaths and called for urgent action to reduce the continuing loss of life.

“UNHCR is dismayed by the ever-growing number of refugees and migrants losing their lives at sea and is calling for urgent international action to strengthen rescue at sea efforts by all relevant and capable actors, including NGOs and commercial vessels, throughout the Mediterranean.

“At the same time, access to protection in countries of first asylum should be ensured, as well as alternative pathways for refugees in Libya trying to cross the sea in search of protection and safety. All these steps are crucial to ensure that no more lives are lost at sea,” it said.

According to the UNHCR, around 220 migrants drowned on Tuesday and Wednesday in three separate tragedies.

On Tuesday, a wooden boat carrying an unknown number of refugees and migrants capsized off the coast of Libya.

Of the estimated 100 passengers, only five survived. They were rescued by the Libyan coastguard, UNHCR said on the basis of survivors' testimony.

On the same day, a rubber dinghy with around 130 people on board sank at a different location off the Libyan coast.

Sixty survivors were rescued by local fishermen, who took them back to shore. Seventy people are believed to have drowned in the incident.

In the third incident on Wednesday, survivors reported that more than 50 people travelling with them perished before the Libyan coastguard mounted a rescue.

 

ROME, June 22, 2018 (News Wires) - Italy on Friday urged Malta to take in a ship carrying more than 200 rescued migrants as the new government pressures European partners to shoulder more of the burden of immigration from North Africa.

The Dutch-flagged ship run by the German charity Mission Lifeline was seeking a nearby European dock, a day after anti-immigrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said the vessel should take the migrants to the Netherlands.

Earlier this month, Salvini pledged to no longer let charity ships bring rescued migrants to Italy, leaving the Gibraltar-flagged Aquarius stranded at sea for days with more than 600 migrants on board until Spain offered them safe haven. Malta also refused to take in the Aquarius.

"For the safety of the crew and those rescued we humanly and politically ask Malta to finally open one of its ports, and then seize the ship and its crew," Salvini said in Siena, Italy.

Malta, a small island nation, has not taken in large numbers of people rescued at sea, while Italy has seen 650,000 arrivals since 2014.

On Friday, Malta had not received a call for help from the ship, Lifeline, or from Italy's coastguard, Maltese government sources said. Lifeline was sailing about half way between Tripoli and Malta early on Friday.

"Malta cannot back out," Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, who oversees the coastguard, said. The European Union's border control agency Frontex "will make an official request to Malta to open its ports", he said.

On Thursday, Toninelli said the Italian coastguard would pick up the 224 migrants, including 14 women and four small children, from Lifeline because it was too dangerous for the 32-metre vessel to travel to the Netherlands with so many on board.

He said the coastguard would escort Lifeline to an Italian port, where it would be impounded pending an investigation into its flag status after the Dutch government denied responsibility for the vessel.

Lifeline later published its Dutch registration papers online.

"There is no need for the Italian government to seize the ship for investigations," spokesman Axel Steier said in a statement.

"No port of safety was assigned so far," Steier added. "We call out to the European community, might it be on national or local level, to help find a solution."

While the number of sea arrivals to Italy has dropped dramatically this year - more than 77 per cent from last year - the new government has thrust immigration to the top of the EU's agenda ahead of a summit of leaders next week.

Italy's government, sworn in earlier this month after promising to raise its voice on immigration in Brussels, has sparred with France, Malta and Germany ahead of the meeting.

PRAGUE, June 19, 2018 (News Wires) - A demand by Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Bavarian allies for border checks within the EU to curb migrant arrivals into Germany is unacceptable to the neighbouring Czech Republic, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Tuesday.

Babis said the 28-country European Union still has a lot to do on migration, but it should not forget its core principles, including the freedom of movement. The Czech Republic is a member of the EU's Schengen open-border area.

"Recent disputes over migration in Germany leads to proposals of closing borders and renewal of border controls which is unacceptable for us," Babis said at a conference on the EU in Prague.

 

BRUSSELS, June 19, 2018 (News Wires) - The European Union will agree next week to look into creating disembarkation platforms in north Africa and elsewhere to decide asylum requests before claimants get to Europe, a draft statement ahead of an EU summit showed.

European capitals from Rome to Budapest have called for such centres as the bloc has struggled since 2015 to deal with higher immigration, but concerns that processing people outside EU borders could violate the law have so far prevented such moves.

Now, however, Italy's new anti-establishment government has demanded that Europe does more to help it handle refugees and migrants arriving from across the Mediterranean.

"Such platforms should provide for rapid processing to distinguish between economic migrants and those in need of international protection, and reduce the incentive to embark on perilous journeys," the draft statement of EU leaders said.

The document, whose wording might still change, is not public but was seen by Reuters before the June 28-29 EU summit, where all 28 EU leaders will lock horns again over migration, an issue that has bitterly divided them.

Though arrival numbers have long been decreasing and are now low, migration has shot back to the top of Europe's political agenda also because German Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition partner issued an ultimatum for an EU-wide deal on migration.

Otherwise, Berlin would introduce right after the summit a unilateral ban on refugees already registered in other EU states, said the junior governing Christian Social Union, which holds the interior ministry.

The EU border agency Frontex said more than 90 percent of those arriving in Italy, Greece and Spain register for asylum there. But they still often go north, including to Germany.

That phenomenon, known as "secondary movements", is against EU law but has been widespread since 2015, the peak of Europe's migration crisis.

"Secondary movements of asylum seekers between Member States put the integrity of the Asylum System severely at risk. Member States should take all necessary internal legislative and administrative measures to counter such movements and to closely cooperate amongst each other to this end," the text said in an indirect response to German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer.

The text is aimed at helping Rome and Berlin agree on migration at the summit.

As the bloc struggled to find a compromise on reforming its internal asylum rules - which broke down under 2015 arrivals - it has instead looked to tighten its borders and prevent people reaching its shores in the first place.

The EU has given aid and money to countries from Turkey and Jordan to Libya and Niger.

 

BAMAKO, June 19, 2018 (News Wires) - Mamoudou Gassama, the Malian migrant “Spiderman” who saved a child hanging off a balcony by scaling a Paris apartment block with his bare hands, was hailed by Mali’s president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

“At a moment when... only one person could make the decision, it was you who made it. Of that, we are very proud,” Keita told Gassama, who was accompanied by his father.

“We had a good talk. He congratulated me on what I had done,” Gassama said.

French President Emmanuel Macron awarded Gassama, who was in France illegally, with French residency - a first step to getting citizenship - and feted his extraordinary feat.

CAIRO, June 19, 2018 (News Wires) - Libya's coast guard says it has recovered the bodies of five migrants and rescued 186 others, including women and children, in separate operations in the Mediterranean Sea.

Navy spokesman Ayoub Jassem says the migrants, who were found Monday, were taken to a navy base in the capital, Tripoli, and a refugee camp in the town of Tawergha.

Libya was plunged into chaos following a 2011 uprising. Since then, Libya has been a frequently used route to Europe for migrants fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East.

Libya has worked to stem the flow of migrants, with assistance from the European Union.

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