TIME europe

The European Union Has Called for Emergency Talks on the Refugee Crisis

Transit zone for migrants at Budapest Keleti railway station
Arpad Kurucz—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Migrants camp in a transit zone at Keleti railway station in Budapest, Hungary on August 30, 2015.

Talks will be attended by Interior Ministers from each of the union's 28 member states

The European Union is calling emergency talks to discuss a solution to its rapidly escalating refugee and migrant crisis, which it says has attained “unprecedented proportions.”

The E.U. leadership announced that the talks will be held on Sept. 14 and be attended by Interior Ministers from each of the union’s 28 member states, the BBC reports.

More than 300,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Europe since January — primarily from the Middle East and Africa — already surpassing the total number for all of 2014.

More than 2,500 of those have died making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea, with 200 missing and feared dead after a boat capsized off the coast of Libya on Thursday, and 71 bodies found in a truck abandoned by the roadside in Austria, only the latest in an increasing number of fatal incidents.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was “horrified and heartbroken” by last week’s deaths, and called for a “collective political response” to the crisis.

The talks in two weeks will touch upon measures against trafficking, return policies and internal co-operation, among other topics, according to the BBC.

Germany, France and the U.K. have all suggested the determination of a list of “safe countries of origin,” thereby enabling the immediate repatriation of at least a portion of the arrivals. Germany announced on Saturday that it would allow migrants from Syria — whose continued civil war is a major contributor to the European influx — to seek and obtain asylum.

TIME Libya

Up to 200 Feared Dead After Another Migrant Boat Sinks Off Libyan Coast

A view of the bodies of dead migrants that were recovered by the Libyan coastguard after a boat sank off the coastal town of Zuwara
Hani Amara—Reuters A view of the bodies of dead migrants that were recovered by the Libyan coast guard after a boat sank off the coastal Libyan town of Zuwara, west of Tripoli, on Aug. 27, 2015

The crammed boat had over 400 passengers

A boat filled with migrants mainly from Africa sunk off the coast of Libya while en route to Italy on Thursday. Officials on the ground were unable to confirm the exact number of casualties, but estimate that up to 200 people may have died, according to Reuters.

The crammed vessel had over 400 passengers and set off from the western Libyan town of Zuwara, a major hub for smugglers looking to take migrants to the Italian coast, Reuters reports.

The boat quickly capsized, leaving many of the passengers trapped inside. According to a Libyan official who spoke to Reuters anonymously, the Libyan coast guard managed to save up to 201 people from the sea, with around 147 of them ending up at a nearby center for illegal migrants in the town of Sabratha.

While many of these migrants understand the risks of taking these overcrowded boats, they are desperate to flee conflict, persecution and extreme poverty in their home countries. In this case, the boat’s passengers included migrants looking to escape sub-Saharan Africa, Pakistan, Syria, Morocco and Bangladesh, an official told Reuters.

On Wednesday, Swedish rescue crews discovered a wooden boat off the coast of Libya with 51 dead migrants left behind in the hull, the Associated Press reports. They were able to rescue 439 of the other passengers.

More than 2,300 people have died so far this year while making the extremely perilous crossing from Northern Africa to Europe, according to the International Organization for Migration.

[Reuters]

TIME migration

Italian Coast Guard Finds 50 Bodies on Migrant Ship Near Libya

439 surviving migrants were rescued from the same ship

(ROME) — Italy’s coast guard says some 50 bodies have been found in the hull of a migrant boat that was rescued off Libya’s northern coast.

Coast guard Lt. Claudio Bernetti said the Swedish ship Poseiden, which is taking part in the EU’s Triton Mediterranean operation, rescued 439 surviving migrants from the ship Wednesday.

The rescue was one of 10 requests for assistance that arrived at the coast guard’s operations center as Libya-based smugglers take advantage of calm seas to send boats overloaded with migrants to Europe.

TIME Tunisia

Tunisian Policeman Killed by Attackers on Moped in Sousse

Tunisia Anti Terror Law
Abdeljalil Bounhar—AP A hooded Tunisian police officer stands guard in the Mediterranean resort of Sousse, Tunisia, on June 29, 2015

The attackers sped away and a search is now under way

(TUNIS, Tunisia) — A Tunisian official says two men on a moped opened fire with a rifle on three policemen in the resort town Sousse, killing one and wounding the other two.

Sahbi Jouini, a member of the policemen’s union, said the victims were waiting for transportation to the neighboring town Kairouan from the low-income neighborhood of Hay Zohour when they were attacked Wednesday.

The attackers sped away and a search is now underway, Jouini added.

On June 26, a gunman killed 38 tourists on a beach in Sousse in an attack later claimed by the Islamic State group.

Tunisian police have been carrying out sweeps across the country, arresting hundreds in an effort to crush the terrorist threat against the state.

Government officials blame neighboring Libya for harboring militants targeting the country.

TIME Libya

ISIS Re-Establish Their Hold On Qaddafi’s Home Town After Crushing a Rebellion

Libya Sirte ISIS
Goran Tomasevic— Reuters Libya Dawn fighters fire an artillery cannon at ISIS militants near Sirte in March 2015.

The U.N. says 38 were killed in the rising

Fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) militants have reestablished dominance over the Libyan city of Sirte after using brutal force to suppress a rebellion by residents of the city in recent days.

The militants shelled a residential neighborhood and hung at least four bodies from lampposts in the coastal city, according to witnesses who spoke to the U.N. Support Mission in Libya. The militants also beheaded 12 people, according to the foreign minister from Libya’s internationally-recognized government who spoke to officials from Arab states in Cairo on Tuesday.

The fighting in Sirte underscores the persistence of an ISIS-dominated enclave in Libya that emerged from the chaos of a civil war pitting two rival governments and a range of local militias against one another. For months, neither of the competing governments or their allied military forces have demonstrated an ability to dislodge the extremists.

In the context of the Libyan political stalemate, the fighting in Sirte also raises the question of whether ISIS can maintain a hold on its only territorial island outside of the group’s heartland in Iraq and Syria. ISIS was driven out of a separate enclave in the eastern Libyan city of Derna after a campaign by a rival militia earlier this summer.

“It’s not a coincidence that those who rose against ISIS in Sirte were just a group of shabab, you know, it’s like the local boys. There was never any attempt by the Tobruk government to put together a military force to fight against ISIS in Sirte or in the surrounding areas,” says Claudia Gazzini, a Tripoli-based senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.

The rebellion in Sirte began after ISIS shot dead a local preacher, Khaled Ben Rajab al-Ferjani, who was known for his opposition to the group, on the night of Aug. 10. Members of the sheikh’s Firjan tribe, attacked ISIS but were defeated. As many as 38 people died, according to estimates cited by the U.N.

The details of the fighting in Sirte are disputed and impossible to verify. In a video uploaded to YouTube that claims to document the clashes on the night of August 11, the sound of explosions and automatic gunfire can be heard in the darkness. A widely circulated photo identified as emerging from Sirte appears to show bodies hanging from scaffolding.

Frederic Wehrey, an expert on Libya at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, says the conflagration in Sirte could represent an underlying problem with ISIS’ strategy in Libya, where the group may be attempting to replicate its approach in parts of Iraq and Syria by attempting to win the support of some local groups. According to Wehrey, ISIS had in fact recruited members of the same tribe that rebelled against it in Sirte.

“ISIS is moving in and it’s playing this tribal card, in some cases the tribes. Local tribes may support it out of expediency and self-protection as they do in Iraq or Syria,” he says. “But that’s a thin bargain, and something went wrong here in Sirte, and the bargain unraveled. In some cases it shows the limits of ISIS’ expansion in Libya that they bump up against these tribal barriers and they’re forced to act with great brutality.”

The city of Sirte, on the Mediterranean coast in north central Libya, has been a focal point for the jihadists in the last year. The group, who reportedly include a number of foreign fighters, established a foothold as state institutions receded across the country in the the civil war.

Sirte is the hometown of Muammar Qaddafi, the dictator who ruled Libya until his demise in the NATO-backed uprising of 2011. According to Gazzini and other experts, the ISIS branch in the city succeeded in recruiting people who still profess loyalty to the old regime, offering them a chance at a comeback from the years when they faced persecution under the forces that came to power following the revolution.

Sirte was where ISIS abducted Coptic Egyptian workers who were among the 21 men executed on video in February. Some of the workers were seized from a vehicle while attempting to flee the city after other Christians were murdered in the town. Sirte is also believed to be the base for the group’s raids on the oilfields in the desert south of the city.

At the meeting of Arab diplomats in Cairo on Tuesday, Libyan Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Dairi called for the removal of a U.N.-imposed arms embargo, arguing that the ban was depriving his government of the weapons it needs to battle the jihadists. That demand, supported by Egypt, was a restatement of a long-held position by the recognized government, which only controls parts of Eastern Libya.

Experts monitoring the fighting in Libya cast doubt on the foreign minister’s argument.

“It’s clear that the inability of the Libyan military to tackle situations like Sirte, to tackle terrorist groups like ISIS is not only the result of their lack of weapons,” says Gazzini. “It’s primarily the result of their inability to coordinate and to put together a military force that is capable of intervening in such scenarios.”

Meanwhile, as in Iraq and Syria, ISIS have established a stronghold, which could be a base for future growth in Libya and beyond, amid the vacuum of civil war.

TIME europe

Dramatic Photo Shows Dozens of Migrants in the Mediterranean After Boat Capsized

Migrants Mediterranean sinking coast Libya
Italian Police/Reuters Surviving migrants are seen swimming in the area where their wooden boat capsized and sank off the coast of Libya on Aug. 5, 2015.

About 200 feared drowned in the deadliest migrant shipwreck this summer

Around 200 people drowned in the Mediterranean this week after a migrant boat headed to Europe capsized near Libya, the UN refugee agency said Thursday.

More than 2,100 other migrants have already died this summer making the treacherous voyage from Libya to Europe, hoping for a better life. But the incident Wednesday night is the believed to be the deadliest so far; 400 of the 600 passengers were rescued and 25 bodies were recovered, but the remainder are feared dead.

Migrant smugglers have made a habit of packing rickety boats full of more passengers than they’re capable of carrying, then waiting for the Italian Coast Guard to rescue the migrants and take them to a European refugee camp, the New York Times reports. But smugglers in charge of the boat that capsized Wednesday were extraordinarily reckless, packing around 600 migrants onto a boat meant to carry no more than 40 or 50, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Survivors said the boat capsized when migrants saw a rescue ship in the distance and rushed to one side of the boat, tipping it into the water, according to the agency. The photo above shows migrants in the water before they were rescued.

More than 200,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean to get to Europe this summer, and even those who have survived shipwrecks say the chance to emigrate is worth the risk. Political instability in Libya in the wake of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s 2011 ousting has attracted migrants from around Africa and the Middle East to the country, which has a long Mediterranean coastline that is now under-policed.

TIME Libya

Migrant Boat Carrying Hundreds Capsizes Near Libya

The boat is estimated to be carrying 600 migrants

ROME — Some 400 migrants have been rescued and 25 bodies recovered after a fishing boat carrying an estimated 600 capsized on Wednesday in the Mediterranean Sea north of Libya, an Italian Coast Guard official said.

Cmdr. Filippo Marini said the rescue operation was still ongoing, involving seven ships. Survivors have indicated that between 400 and 600 people were on board the smugglers’ boat when it capsized, he added.

The Irish naval vessel Le Niamh was one of several ships requested by the Italian coast guard to speed to the rescue of the overturned boat shortly before noon, Irish Capt. Donal Gallagher told The Associated Press by phone. “An Italian (military) helicopter has dropped additional life rafts” into the sea, he added.

Also involved in the rescue were an Italian vessel and a boat operated by Doctors Without Borders. Non-governmental organizations often join in migrant sea rescue operations, which are coordinated by Italy’s coast guard and are now under the umbrella of a European Union task force known as Triton. The distressed vessel was reported to be 110 kilometers (about 75 miles) northwest of Tripoli, Libya’s capital.

Officials have yet to determine what caused the capsizing.

Before Wednesday’s capsizing, the International Organization for Migration said nearly 2,000 migrants are believed to have lost their lives at sea since the start of this year. But the exact toll isn’t known. In April, a smuggling boat crammed with an estimated 800 migrants overturned, also off Libya’s coast, where smugglers operate. Only 28 survivors, including two alleged smugglers, were found in that tragedy.

Fleeing war, persecution and poverty, the migrants travel overland for weeks or months from sub-Saharan Africa, the Horn of Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia to reach Libya. There they set sail in flimsy motorized rubber dinghies or rickety old fishing boats. When the boats have problems, someone aboard contacts the coast guard by satellite phone requesting rescue. Other boats in distress are spotted by Triton air surveillance.

Most of the migrants hope to find asylum, relatives or jobs, mainly in northern Europe.

TIME India

India Says Four Nationals Have Been Kidnapped in Libya

The kidnappers are suspected to be ISIS militants

Four Indians were reportedly kidnapped in Libya on Friday, with Islamic militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) allegedly thought responsible.

The Indians were kidnapped from the town of Sirte near the Middle Eastern nation’s capital city Tripoli, the BBC reported.

They had been working as teachers at the University of Sirte, in the hometown of the country’s late former dictator Muammar Gaddafi where ISIS has a strong presence.

“We are in regular touch with their families,” Vikas Swarup, spokesperson for India’s Ministry of External Affairs, said in a statement to the ANI news agency, adding that they were ascertaining further details through the Indian mission in Tripoli. Three of the abductees are faculty at the University of Sirte while the fourth works at the university, Swarup said. All four hail from the south of India: two from Hyderabad and two from Karnataka.

“No ransom demand has been made yet. We are trying to ascertain their whereabouts,” local news channel NDTV quoted Indian foreign ministry officials as saying.

TIME Military

Of Two Minds About Fighting ISIS

150528-N-KU391-255
Josh Petrosino / U.S. Navy An E/A-18G electronic-warfare plane readies for takeoff May 26 from the USS Theodore Roosevelt for a mission against the Islamic State.

The military's leery, and two top newspapers disagree

The U.S. has been bombing the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) for nearly a year, and its citizens—thanks to no American blood being spilled—are paying scant attention. That’s probably just as well, given the lack of consensus inside the U.S. government on what to do, and on the opposing views of two of the nation’s most influential newspapers.

Here’s a tip: it’s generally a bad idea to expand a shooting war when the government and press are split on its merits, a President’s in the twilight of his tenure, and the public doesn’t care. Even successful air campaigns—remember the 32-week effort that pushed Muammar Gaddafi out of Libya’s presidential tent in 2011?—seem less victorious in hindsight, as the north African “nation” becomes a Petri dish for terrorists (the U.S. launched an air strike early Sunday that reportedly killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist who’d set up shop there, the Pentagon said Sunday).

The U.S. thirst for vengeance on ISIS was fueled by the beheadings of three Americans last year. ISIS wanted deeper American involvement (remember, many of them are suicidal) but Washington refused to bite. While President Obama has pledged to “degrade and destroy” ISIS, Pentagon officials lately have been saying “containment” more often. The air strikes have frozen the situation on the ground, which amounts to a de facto containment strategy. Absent a major terror strike linked to ISIS, that could continue indefinitely.

Before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, one of every three U.S. officers opposed it, according to an informal sampling of opinion at the time. Given that—and the years of turmoil it generated inside the U.S. military, and inside the region to this day—it’s not surprising that U.S. military leadership doesn’t want to wade more deeply into the anti-ISIS fight, as the Washington Post reported Sunday.

“Some of the strongest resistance to boosting U.S. involvement came from a surprising place: a war-weary military that has grown increasingly skeptical that force can prevail in a conflict fueled by political and religious grievances,” the Post said. “Their shift reflects the paucity of good options and a reluctance to suffer more combat deaths in a war in which America’s political leaders are far from committed and Iraqis have shown limited will to fight.”

Actually, it’s not that surprising. The notion that the military chomps at the bit to wage war is usually not the case. Some of its leaders, like Colin Powell, have advocated a series of guidelines (overwhelming force, clear objective) that have acted as a brake, when observed, on U.S. military action. It was the State Department, the Post reported, that pushed for assigning limited numbers of U.S. troops closer to the front lines alongside Iraqi forces to make U.S.-led air strikes more effective.

That schism inside the government has been reflected in recent days in editorials in the New York Times and the Post.

The Times complained Friday that Obama’s decision to dispatch 450 more U.S. troops to Iraq will do little to “change Iraq’s dysfunctional politics.” Iraqi politicians “have consistently demonstrated an inability or unwillingness” to share power and reduce the historic divisions among Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds, it said. “With each increase,” the Times noted, “the United States is being dragged more deeply into a war that lawmakers have been unwilling to authorize formally.”

The Post‘s Sunday editorial seemed uninformed by that piece on its front page about U.S. military doubts. It said the 450 troops, a 15% increase over the 3,100 already there, are too few to make a difference. “Rather than aiming to destroy the [ISIS], Mr. Obama is focused on limiting U.S. engagement,” the editorial said. “It is well within the capacity of the United States to destroy the [ISIS].”

Well, yes. Just like the U.S. succeeded in destroying Saddam Hussein’s state.

TIME Italy

Thousands More Migrants Have Been Rescued From the Mediterranean During the Last Two Days

Italy Migrants
Sascha Jonack— Bundeswehr/AP Soldiers of the German Navy ship Hessen rescue migrants in the Mediterranean Sea on June 6, 2015

More than 1,800 migrants have died or gone missing attempting to cross the Mediterranean this year alone

A new wave of boats is attempting to cross from Libya to Italy, the International Organization for Migration warned Sunday, citing balmy weather and tranquil seas as the reasons behind the surge of migrants risking their lives in the Mediterranean.

Nearly 3,500 migrants were rescued on Saturday alone, with 1,000 more (including at least 10 pregnant women) on board relief vessels by mid-afternoon Sunday, CNN reports.

A team of ships from several European nations cooperated on a rescue effort, including the British, Irish, Spanish, and German navies and the Italian coast guard, which alone received 14 distress calls Sunday, many from wooden fishing boats and rubber dinghies. One of the biggest rescued vessels held 563 migrants.

Rescue ships planned to bring the migrants to various ports in Italy, including Palermo and Trapani in Sicily, Taranto in Italy, and the island of Lampedusa, a spokesman for Germany’s Bundeswehr Joint Forces Operation Command told CNN.

As of the end of May, the United Nations estimated that 90,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean to Europe so far in 2015; of those, more than 1800 have died or are missing at sea.

[CNN]

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