Migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa have been left stranded on the Mediterranean Sea after Italy and Malta closed their ports due to public health reasons amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Alarm Phone, which acts as a hotline for refugees and migrants in distress on the Mediterranean, said April 13 that it hadn't heard from one of three boats that requested assistance in Malta's search-and-rescue zone. When Alarm Phone reached out to the Maltese authorities, they were frequently placed on hold or the line disconnected, according to the hotline's Maurice Stierl.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres is calling for warring parties across the world to lay down arms in support of the battle against COVID-19. "The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war," he said in a March 23 statement. "That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world. It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives... Silence the guns, stop the artillery, end the air-strikes. It is crucial to help create corridors for life-saving aid, to open precious windows for diplomacy, to bring hope to places among the most vulnerable to COVID-19." (UN News, PBS News Hour)
Refugees have become political pawns in a power play between the EU, Greece and Turkey. Turkey abrogated its deal with the European Union to contain refugees within its borders, as a means of pressuring the EU to support its military campaign in Syria. Dramatic scenes ensued at the land and sea borders between Greece and Turkey: Greek police tear-gassing and pushing back crowds of asylum-seekers at a northern border crossing; the Hellenic Coast Guard firing warning shots at a dinghy full of asylum-seekers in the Aegean Sea; angry protesters preventing another group in a dinghy from disembarking in the port on the island of Lesvos. Amid all this came a timely reminder of what can happen when people feel compelled to attempt ever more dangerous journeys. The UN migration agency, IOM, announced that the drowning of 91 people off the coast of Libya last month and other recent fatalities had taken the toll in the Mediterranean Sea since 2014 above 20,000.
A senior UN official charged Feb. 16 at a press conference in Munich that numerous countries are violating the Libya arms embargo and that they must be held accountable. UN Deputy Special Representative to Libya Stephanie Williams said that "the arms embargo has become a joke." Williams' comments follow a UN Security Council resolution passed just a week earlier expressing "grave concern" for the humanitarian situation in Libya, noting especially "deteriorating living standards and insufficient provision of basic services" and "the situation faced by migrants, refugees, and internally displaced people." The Libyan National Army (LNA), led by Khalifa Haftar, has been fighting with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) for control of Tripoli since April of last year. Russia, Egypt and the UAE are said to be supporting the LNA, while Turkey supports the GNA. Foreign powers are violating the arms embargo "by land, sea and air," Williams said. (Jurist)
The Italian Senate voted Feb. 12 to lift former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini's parliamentary immunity over his treatment of asylum seekers. Under Italian law, Salvini had immunity from criminal prosecution over actions he had taken while serving in the cabinet. But, at the request of prosecutors in Catania, Sicily, the Senate voted 152-76 to strip Salvini of his immunity, thus formally authorizing prosecutors to press charges against him for his decision to refuse entry to approximately 131 asylum-seeking migrants last July.
A report published Jan. 27 by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) and the UN Human Rights Office reveals that at least 53 migrants and refugees were killed in the July 2019 air-strikes on the Tajoua detention center outside Tripoli. Those killed were determined to be citizens of Algeria, Chad, Bangladesh, Morocco, Niger and Tunisia. The report also determined that 87 male migrants and refugees were injured in the attack. The strikes were found to have been conducted by aircraft belonging to a "foreign state" that might have been under the command of the Libyan National Army (LNA) or operated under the command of that foreign state in support of the LNA. The report found that in addition to the internal conflict in Libya, a "parallel situation of international armed conflict" may also exist between outside states supporting the LNA and rival Government of National Accord (GNA).
The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., began hearing oral arguments Jan. 29 in International Refugee Assistance Project v. Donald Trump, a case challenging the administration's travel bans. The plaintiffs, led by IRAP, argue that, despite the Supreme Court ruling in Trump v. Hawaii, their challenge is not barred. They contend that the high court simply addressed the preliminary injunction, and not the merits of the overall travel ban. The case challenges the proclamation Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, Executive Order 13780. The plaintiffs are asserting that the proclamation is unconstitutional, while the Trump administration argues that Trump v. Hawaii settled the constitutionality of the proclamation.
Moscow has certainly been a flurry of diplomatic activity in recent days. Jan. 13 saw the first direct meeting in years between the intelligence chiefs of Turkey and Syria's Assad regime, supposedly deadly rivals. The head of Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (MIT) Hakan Fidan met with Ali Mamlouk, head of the Syrian National Security Bureau, in a sure sign of a Russian-brokered rapprochement between the burgeoning dictatorship of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the entrenched dictatorship of Bashar Assad. Sources said discussions included "the possibility of working together against YPG, the terrorist organization PKK's Syrian component, in the East of the Euphrates river." (Daily Sabah, Reuters)