Migrants rescued after 12 days at sea; EU eyes seizing boats

AP News
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Posted: May 06, 2015 3:30 PM
Migrants rescued after 12 days at sea; EU eyes seizing boats

CATANIA, Sicily (AP) — Nearly 100 migrants who reported being at sea for 12 days arrived in Sicily on Wednesday as diplomats mulled a draft U.N. resolution authorizing an EU mission to seize the smugglers' boats that are fueling the Mediterranean migrant crisis.

The 98 migrants, a third of them women and three of them pregnant, were among hundreds of would-be refugees who arrived in Italian ports Wednesday after being rescued from overcrowded dinghies and fishing boats in recent days. Most have set off from Libya, where human traffickers charging migrants around $1,000 apiece are operating with near-impunity amid the country's political chaos.

As the crisis deepened, diplomatic efforts to stem the tide appeared to kick into higher gear.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, is due to brief the Security Council on Monday about the crisis and about EU proposals to target the traffickers. A draft U.N. resolution would authorize an EU mission for one year to seize boats where there's credible evidence they're being used by smugglers, a council diplomat said Wednesday in New York.

The resolution, which would be militarily enforceable, would cover the high seas, Libya's territorial waters and coast, and mission members could also go on land.

Some European Union leaders had proposed a U.N.-blessed operation to destroy smugglers' boats before they are used. The idea, however, has raised a host of legal concerns and Russia — which has veto power at the Security Council — has said it would oppose any ship-destroying resolution.

"Apprehending human traffickers and actually arresting those vessels is one thing, but destroying them would be going too far," said Russia's ambassador to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov.

However, Russia reportedly supports the draft resolution calling for the ships to be seized, said the council diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to provide details of the negotiations.

The diplomat stressed that the resolution, which is expected to be approved before a May 18 EU foreign ministers' meeting, is aimed at reducing migrants' suffering, even though provisions to address their needs are still being worked out.

Libya will probably need to give the mission permission for any actions in its waters or on its shores — no small task given the North African nation's rival governments.

The head of the Italian Red Cross, Francesco Rocca, met with the U.N. chief Wednesday in New York and concurred that bombing smugglers' ships wasn't the answer.

He said a political solution must be found to resolve the chaos in Libya, and then a humanitarian approach to cope with the migrants there.

"There are hundreds of thousands in Libya at the moment," he said. "Who will protect them?"

He said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would be returning to Europe in the coming weeks to push the EU for a "humanitarian imperative" at the root of its migrant response.

Even as diplomats debated how best to cope, the migrants kept coming.

Two coast guard rescue boats brought 650 migrants ashore in Roccella Ionica, an Italian port in the southern Calabria region, while an equal number arrived in Naples. Hundreds more were brought ashore in rescue boats to the Italian cities of La Spezia, Taranto, Messina and elsewhere.

The Italian border patrol ship Monte Cimone arrived in Catania late Wednesday carrying 98 passengers who reported having been at sea for 12 days before being rescued. Two women were taken off on stretchers, and were followed by three young children and several teenagers. The migrants told Italian officials they had spent the last two days adrift 200 kilometers (125 miles) off Sicily, without food or water and with the ship's hold flooding.

In Libya, a top coast guard official, Gen. Ayoub Ghasem, told The Associated Press that more than 700 migrants were caught before leaving Libya's territorial waters on Monday and Tuesday.

Libya sends such migrants back to detention centers, but the migrants usually bribe the militiamen guarding the prisons to get out.

"We have very limited resources," Ghasem said. "Europe wants Libya to be its policeman, not a real partner. That is the problem."

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Winfield reported from Rome and Anna from New York. AP writers Lorne Cook and Raf Casert in Brussels and Maggie Michael in Cairo contributed.