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'They got the wrong man': Doubts remain over identity of people-trafficking suspect
File photo of a coastguard boat arriving at Lampedusa. The man is accused of organizing the packing of migrants onto a boat that sank off the island in 2013, killing 360. Photo: AFP
08:59 CEST+02:00
 
One year ago an Eritrean was arrested in Sudan on charges of heading a major people-smuggling network and extradited to Italy, where he has languished in jail ever since - despite persistent claims the police got the wrong man.

Sicilian prosecutor Francesco Lo Voi hailed the arrest as "a turning point in the fight against human traffickers" after months of trying to break into a ring of smugglers shipping migrants across the Mediterranean.

Medhanie Yehdego Mered, 36, is accused of being "the General" of one of the largest migrant trafficking networks, with branches in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates as well as in several European countries.

Investigators suspect him of organizing since 2013 the often deadly journeys of hundreds of people a month - especially young people from the Horn of Africa - across the baking Sahara and out to sea towards Italy.

He ended up on an international wanted list after being identified as the man who organised the packing of migrants onto a boat that sank off Lampedusa in 2013, killing at least 360 people in one of the worst disasters in the Mediterranean.

The "cynical and unscrupulous" Mered, who reportedly styled himself on ex-Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi, had been "continuously and constantly reaping vast profits while showing a contempt for human life," according to a joint statement by Sudan, Italy and Britain announcing his arrest on May 24th last year.

READ ALSO: Italian police bust people-trafficking ring in Lombardy

But images of a frail young man in a red shirt being marched off a plane in Italy sowed the first seeds of doubt.

Some who had known "the General" said the police had the wrong man. The handcuffed prisoner was instead identified by relatives as a refugee, Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe, then a 29-year-old carpenter.

"This is not the General. He doesn't even speak Arabic," Tasfie Haggose, an Eritrean refugee in Khartoum, told AFP.

Shared first name

The trial against him went ahead, and the prosecution will call its last witnesses for a hearing in Palermo this month.

But the accused man's lawyer, Michele Calantropo, says it is a case of mistaken identity.

"At the moment, there is nothing" that proves his client is the wanted trafficker, he said.

Calantropo says he has 42 witnesses and experts ready to testify in the coming months that the man behind bars has only one thing in common with "the General": his first name, Medhanie.

This was the name flagged by Britain's National Crime Agency (NCA) in 2016 when it heard someone going by that name calling the tapped phone of a suspected smuggler in Libya.

The man who made the calls was tracked down and arrested in Khartoum. But while prosecutors say the calls were made to organize migrant trips, Calantropo says his client was just looking out for loved ones heading to Europe.

READ ALSO: Italy PM hails migrant rescuers amid probe into trafficking links

Prosecutors said two Eritrean translators had testified to police that the arrested man's voice matched a 2014 recording of "the General" captured by wiretap, though standard voice recognition software failed to produce a result.

Although the smuggling kingpin had been wanted internationally since 2015, investigators knew little about him.

The prosecution has deemed it irrelevant that the man behind bars is six years younger than the suspect and does not resemble a wanted photograph released by police.

An NCA spokesman told AFP that it "remain(s) confident in our intelligence". But the man has had a lonely wait for justice. Since Italy considers him to be Medhanie Yehdego Mered, the family of Medhanie Tesfamariam Berhe is not allowed to visit or contact him by phone.

"I was the only one who could wish him happy birthday" when he turned 30 in early May, Calantropo said.

By Fanny Carrier

Source=https://www.thelocal.it/20170524/italy-trafficking-smuggling-court-eritrea-sudan-mistaken-identity

5,000 migrants rescued in 48 hours off Libya

Saturday, 27 May 2017 23:37 Written by

AFP

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5,000 migrants rescued in 48 hours off Libya
 
17:46 CEST+02:00
 
Some 5,000 migrants bound for Italy were rescued in waters off the coast of Libya between Thursday and Saturday morning by Italian and Libyan coastguards, statements from both countries said.
Around 2,900 people were rescued on Thursday, 2,300 of whom were found in international waters and taken to Italy, while 580 picked up in Libyan waters were returned to the north African country.
Through Friday until Saturday morning, coastguards rescued another 2,100 migrants packed in 17 vessels, but found the body of one man who drowned, the Italian coastguard said.
The number of migrants arriving in Italy has soared this year by more than 30 percent in comparison with the same period last year, with 46,000 people arriving so far.
But of every 39 migrants who survive the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, one dies, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said, adding that 1,244 migrants were known to have died so far this year.
 

 

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Italy makes deal with Libya, Chad and Niger aimed at cutting down migration
Migrants disembarking in Italy after being rescued off the Libyan coast. File photo: Giovanni Isolino/AFP
09:04 CEST+02:00
 
Italy has signed a deal with Libya, Chad and Niger to try to stem the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean by beefing up border controls and creating new reception centres in the African nations.

A joint statement by the interior ministers of the four countries said they had agreed to set up centres in Chad and Niger, key countries of transit for migrants who travel to Libya and on to Italy from sub-Saharan Africa.

The statement, released on Sunday after an Italy-organized meeting in Rome, said the new centres in Chad and Niger, and the existing ones in Libya, would live up to "international humanitarian standards".

Rights groups have slammed the conditions of existing detention centres in crisis-hit Libya and questioned how the West can ensure such "international standards" are met and kept.

READ ALSO: EU migrant plan will send children back to 'a living hell', rights groups say

"Libyan legislation criminalizes illegal immigration so it is not clear how these could be reception centres and not detention centres," Mattia Toaldo, a European Council on Foreign Relations expert, said on Monday.

"The establishment of 'reception centres' in Niger and Chad is also questionable: is Europe outsourcing its border control to these countries? If so, in exchange for what amounts of money and coming from where?".

Toaldo also questioned why the deal was made by interior ministers and how they hoped to follow through on a commitment to "promote legal economic development" as an alternative to the wealthy trafficking trade.

Brink of famine

On Sunday the head of the United Nations refugee agency Filippo Grandi urged Libyan authorities to free all asylum seekers and refugees from its detention centres, slamming the conditions as "shocking".

While promising to try to step-up the UNHCR's presence, Grandi said it would take time for political and security reasons. Libya has long been a stepping stone for migrants seeking a better life in Europe. People smugglers have stepped up their lucrative business in the chaos which has engulfed the country since its 2011 revolution.

READ ALSO: One of Italy's largest migrant centres was 'controlled by the mafia'

Italy registered nearly 50,000 migrant arrivals by sea by mid-April, 97 percent of them from Libya, according to Rome, and the country's own migrant centres have become overcrowded.

The Libyan coastguard is believed to have picked up close to 6,000 migrants attempting the perilous crossing this year and returned them to Libya, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Nigerians have made up the largest group of people fleeing for Italy since January. Two million people are teetering on the brink of famine in the country's northeast, home to the notoriously ruthless Boko Haram.

The jihadist group launched an uprising there in 2009 which has since spilled over into neighbouring Chad and Niger.

Source=https://www.thelocal.it/20170523/italy-makes-deal-with-libya-chad-and-niger-aimed-at-cutting-down-migration

A well-attended get together of Eritreans and their Swedish friends held two consecutive events in Gothenburg, Sweden, on 25 May 2017 at which the situation in Eritrea was very well highlighted. The first event was a seminar organized by the Eritrea-Sweden Solidarity Association at which invited speakers transmitted timely and useful information to an audience mainly made up of young Eritreans. The seminar was followed by a congress of the association named 'Eritrea in Our Hearts'.

Sweden 5 DSC 0082

The seminar was opened by welcoming statement of of Mr. Tomas Magnusson, president of the Eritea-Sweden Solidarity Assocation, who invited to the podium the Mayor of Gothenburg, Mr. Yonas Attenius, responsible for residential homes and employment opportunities in the city.

Microsoft Word Eritrea Sweden Solidarity Association Holds Seminar and Congress doc 2

 

The Mayor explained the problems faced in his area of responsibility and how solutions are worked out.

Microsoft Word Eritrea Sweden Solidarity Association Holds Seminar and Congress doc 3

The other guest speaker was Mr. Rezene Tesfazion, Executive Committee member in charge of finance in the Eritrean People's Democratic Party (EPDP), who spoke in great detail about the ups and downs in history of the Eritrean people and their current situation at home and abroad.

Following Mr. Rezene Tesfazion's presentation, Mr. Ulf Bosrom, City Police Officer in charge of integration work, spoke the role of police in a democratic system of governance which gives high value to everyone's commitment to the rule of law.

The final speaker at the seminar was Mr. Viktor Stenlov of the Swedish Social Democratic Party who spoke on the role of youth in social change. In concluding his inspiring speech by informing his audience of young Eritreans, he said that they join their Swedish friends of same age in making a difference in the Swedish society.

Sweden 1 DSC 0052

The seminar was followed by the annual congress of Eritrea in Our Hearts whose outgoing committee members presented reports of past activities. The congress finally elected a 15-person committee to lead the young association for one year.

Woldeyesus Ammar

(This paper was presented a year ago at a conference in Geneva entitled:  "Eritrea at Silver Jubilee: Stocktaking on the Nation-Building Experience of a 'Newly' Independent African Country." .........).

Saudi Arabia’s military pressure on Assad served only to make him seek more help from Russia, precipitating intervention which the US was not prepared to oppose

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The Independent Online

saudi-arabia-prince-mohammad-bin-salman.gif Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman is the most powerful figure in Saudi decision making Getty

As recently as two years ago, Saudi Arabia’s half century-long effort to establish itself as the main power among Arab and Islamic states looked as if it was succeeding. A US State Department paper sent by former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, in 2014 and published by Wikileaks spoke of the Saudis and Qataris as rivals competing “to dominate the Sunni world”.

A year later in December 2015, the German foreign intelligence service BND was so worried about the growing influence of Saudi Arabia that it took the extraordinary step of producing a memo, saying that “the previous cautious diplomatic stance of older leading members of the royal family is being replaced by an impulsive policy of intervention”.

An embarrassed German government forced the BND to recant, but over the last year its fears about the destabilising impact of more aggressive Saudi policies were more than fulfilled. What it did not foresee was the speed with which Saudi Arabia would see its high ambitions defeated or frustrated on almost every front. But in the last year Saudi Arabia has seen its allies in Syrian civil war lose their last big urban centre in east Aleppo. Here, at least, Saudi intervention was indirect but in Yemen direct engagement of the vastly expensive Saudi military machine has failed to produce a victory. Instead of Iranian influence being curtailed by a more energetic Saudi policy, the exact opposite has happened. In the last OPEC meeting, the Saudis agreed to cut crude production while Iran raised output, something Riyadh had said it would always reject. 

In the US, the final guarantor of the continued rule of the House of Saud, President Obama allowed himself to be quoted as complaining about the convention in Washington of treating Saudi Arabia as a friend and ally. At a popular level, there is growing hostility to Saudi Arabia reflected in the near unanimous vote in Congress to allow families of 9/11 victims to sue the Saudi government as bearing responsibility for the attack.

Under the mercurial guidance of Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the most powerful figure in Saudi decision making, Saudi foreign policy became more militaristic and nationalistic after his 80 year old father Salman became king on 23 January 2015. Saudi military intervention in Yemen followed, as did increased Saudi assistance to a rebel alliance in Syria in which the most powerful fighting force was Jabhat al-Nusra, formerly the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda.

Nothing has gone well for the Saudis in Yemen and Syria. The Saudis apparently expected the Houthis to be defeated swiftly by pro-Saudi forces, but after fifteen months of bombing they and their ally, former President Saleh, still hold the capital Sanaa and northern Yemen. The prolonged bombardment of the Arab world’s poorest country by the richest has produced a humanitarian catastrophe in which at least 60 per cent of the 25 million Yemeni population do not get enough to eat or drink.

The enhanced Saudi involvement in Syria in 2015 on the side of the insurgents had similarly damaging and unexpected consequences. The Saudis had succeeded Qatar as the main Arab supporter of the Syrian insurgency in 2013 in the belief that their Syrian allies could defeat President Bashar al-Assad or lure the US into doing so for them. In the event, greater military pressure on Assad served only to make him seek more help from Russia and Iran and precipitated Russian military intervention in September 2015 which the US was not prepared to oppose.  

Prince Mohammed bin Salman is being blamed inside and outside the Kingdom for impulsive misjudgments that have brought failure or stalemate. On the economic front, his Vision 2030 project whereby Saudi Arabia is to become less wholly dependent on oil revenues and more like a normal non-oil state attracted scepticism mixed with derision from the beginning. It is doubtful if there will be much change in the patronage system whereby a high proportion of oil revenues are spent on employing Saudis regardless of their qualifications or willingness to work.  

Protests by Saudi Arabia’s ten million-strong foreign work force, a third of the 30 million population, because they have not been paid can be ignored or crushed by floggings and imprisonment. The security of the Saudi state is not threatened. 

The danger for the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the other Gulf states is rather that hubris and wishful thinking have tempted them to try to do things well beyond their strength. None of this is new and the Gulf oil states have been increasing their power in the Arab and Muslim worlds since the nationalist regimes in Egypt, Syria and Jordan were defeated by Israel in 1967. They found – and Saudi Arabia is now finding the same thing – that militaristic nationalism works well to foster support for rulers under pressure so long as they can promise victory, but delegitimises them when they suffered defeat.

Previously Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states had worked through allies and proxies but this restraint ended with the popular uprisings of 2011. Qatar and later Saudi Arabia shifted towards supporting regime change. Revolutions transmuted into counter-revolutions with a strong sectarian cutting edge in countries like Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain where there were Sunni and non-Sunni populations.

Critics of Saudi and Qatari policies often demonise them as cunning and effective, but their most striking characteristic is their extreme messiness and ignorance of real conditions on the ground. In 2011, Qatar believed that Assad could be quickly driven from power just like Muamar Gaddafi in Libya. When this did not happen they pumped in money and weapons willy-nilly while hoping that the US could be persuaded to intervene militarily to overthrow Assad as Nato had done in Libya.   

Experts on in Syria argue about the extent to which the Saudis and the Qataris knowingly funded Islamic State and various al-Qaeda clones. The answer seems to be that they did not know, and often did not care, exactly who they were funding and that, in any case, it often came from wealthy individuals and not from the Saudi government or intelligence services.

The mechanism whereby Saudi money finances extreme jihadi groups was explained in an article by Carlotta Gall in the New York Times in December on how the Saudis had bankrolled the Taliban after their defeat in 2001. The article cites the former Taliban Finance Minister, Agha Jan Motasim, as explaining in an interview how he would travel to Saudi Arabia to raise large sums of money from private individuals which was then covertly transferred to Afghanistan. Afghan officials are quoted as saying that a recent offensive by 40,000 Taliban cost foreign donors $1 billion.

The attempt by Saudi Arabia and Gulf oil states to achieve hegemony in the Arab and Sunni Muslim worlds has proved disastrous for almost everybody. The capture of east Aleppo by the Syrian Army and the likely fall of Mosul to the Iraqi Army means defeat for that the Sunni Arabs in a great swathe of territory stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean. Largely thanks to their Gulf benefactors, they are facing permanent subjection to hostile governments.

Source=http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/saudi-arabia-syria-yemen-oil-prince-salman-down-in-flames-a7513636.html?cmpid=facebook-post

Italy rescues 2,300 people off Libyan coast

Sunday, 21 May 2017 11:29 Written by

Italy rescues 2,300 people off Libyan coast

File photo of rescued migrants on their way to Italy: Giovanni Isolino/AFP

Some 2,300 migrants headed for Italy in 22 barely seaworthy vessels were rescued off the Libyan coast on Thursday, the Italian coastguard said.

Coastguard and military vessels joined forces with others chartered by humanitarian organizations to come to the rescue of the migrants, who were packed into ten wooden boats and 12 rubber dinghies.

"About 2,300 migrants were rescued in the Mediterranean today," the coastguard said in a statement.

READ ALSO: How a new wave of children's books is tackling the migrant crisis

Prudence, a vessel chartered by medical charity Medecins sans Frontieres, picked up 770 people, many of them young children - one a baby aged just six weeks, it said.

SOS Mediterranee's and MSF's Aquarius vessel rescued 560 people and Phoenix, chartered by Maltese NGO Moas, hauled in another 360.

Some 46,000 migrants had reached the Italian coast this year even before Thursday's drama, around a third up on the same period last year, according to the Italian interior ministry.

At least 1,229 people have drowned making the perilous trip, according to the International Organization for Migration - one death for every 39 persons rescued.

The latest wave of people picked up comes as Italy beefs up security ahead of next week's G7 summit at Taormina in Sicily.

The summit poses a challenge given that local authorities on the island have banned migrants from disembarking at Sicilian ports.

Southern mainland ports or and those in the of Sardinia will instead take the strain.

Source=https://www.thelocal.it/20170519/italy-rescues-2300-people-off-libyan-coast

New legislation makes it easier to deport and monitor migrants, but rights groups call it an assault on refugee rights.

19 May 2017 18:42 GMT

 
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The legislation also restricts freedom of movement for all failed asylum seekers [File: Ralph Orlowski/Reuters]

The German parliament has passed legislation making it easier to deport failed asylum seekers and monitor those deemed dangerous in a move that has been slammed by opposition parties and rights groups as an assault on the rights of refugees. 

In legislation passed by the Bundestag late on Thursday, German authorities will be able to detain refugees due for deportation for 10 days rather than four, and monitor by ankle bracelet those deemed potentially dangerous.

The legislation also restricts freedom of movement for all failed asylum seekers. It grants the federal refugee agency BAMF and other government bodies more leeway to use and share data retrieved from migrants' mobile phones.

OPINION: Angela Merkel is not the great progressive messiah

Refugee organisation Pro Asyl criticised the measures, saying that they robbed refugees of their right to privacy.

"The agreed package of measures for tougher deportation policies is a programme that will deprive asylum-seekers of hope for protection in Germany and is aimed at discouraging them," the organisation said in a statement.

Defending the move, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere referred to the new measures as "a conclusion of efforts to tighten asylum laws in this legislative period". 

The measures were decided partly as a response to a truck attack in Berlin in December in which 12 people were killed. Although attacker Anis Amri's asylum request had failed and he was under surveillance by police, the authorities failed to deport him.

Amri, a 24-year-old, had been living in Germany as an asylum seeker. He was killed in Italy after he pulled a gun and shot an Italian officer in the shoulder during a routine police check.

Hundreds of German investigators are investigating how Amri managed to flee Germany after the attack and whether he may have had accomplices or a support network that helped him escape.

Source=http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/05/germany-approves-deportation-asylum-seekers-law-170519175532590.html

Below is a press release from the Aid Organisation for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel.

The organisation (ASSAF) explains the impact of a new law, imposed by the Israeli parliament on African refugees. These men and women already face terrible pressure to leave Israel, including deporation to African countries. Now they have this additional burden.

Martin

Source: ASSAF

These days we are preparing for the fateful consequences of the "Deposit Law", a legislation that withholds a fifth of African refugees' monthly salary. The law came into force on May 1. By harming asylum seekers economically, and consequently also socially and psychologically, the purpose of the law is to encourage "voluntary" departure of asylum seekers from Israel.

The law states that 20% of the wages of asylum seekers, in addition to 16% of their salaries taken from their employers, will be deposited into a fund that will be held by the state. Asylum seekers will have access to their money only if and when they leave Israel permanently.

We expect that asylum seekers will feel the brunt of the law as soon as the first pay day in June. In March we petitioned the High Court of Justice alongside asylum seekers and other human rights organizations. Unfortunately, the Court rejected our request for an interim order and the draconian law came into force.

We are currently waiting for a hearing on the petition, scheduled for July, hoping that the Court will cancel this legislation. At the same time, we sent an urgent request to the Director General of the Ministry of Social Affairs and demanded that his Ministry prepares itself to care for an additional hundreds of women and children at risk, as well as families. We expect that many will be in need of immediate assistance, due to the consequences of the law. We addressed the Mayor of Tel Aviv with a similar request.

"A catastrophe is about to unravel in Neve Sha'anan, Shapira and Hatikva neighborhoods", said ASSAF's Head of Public Awareness and Advocacy Orit Marom to Channel 2 news earlier this month. "The refugees will once again live in yards, stairwells and parks, they will be homeless and hungry, and once again people will talk about how great the distress here is." To view the story (in Hebrew) click here.

 

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Italy gives Libya four patrol boats to help fight illegal immigration
Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti (2L) and Libyan Defence Minister of the UN-backed Government of National Accord, Al-Mahdi Al-Barghathi (L). Photo: Mahmud Turkia/AFP
08:14 CEST+02:00
Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti on Monday handed over to the Libyan coastguard four patrol boats repaired in Italy as part of cooperation in the fight against illegal immigration.

The crews were trained in Italy "to monitor Libyan territorial waters...and contribute, together with Italy and Europe, to security in the Mediterranean", Minniti said in remarks translated into Arabic.

A Libyan naval officer told AFP the vessels had been due for delivery in 2014, but this date was pushed back because of violence and instability in the North African country.

Libya has long been a stepping stone for migrants seeking a better life in Europe. People smugglers have stepped up their lucrative business in the chaos which has engulfed the country since its 2011 revolution.

Minniti said on Monday another six patrol boats would be handed over to Libya soon after the training of the crews.

Libya's authorities have complained about lacking the means to deal with the floods of migrants who try crossing the Mediterranean in makeshift boats.

Italy registered nearly 42,500 migrant arrivals by sea by mid-April, 97 percent of them from Libya, Minniti said in a joint letter written with his German counterpart to the European Commission.

In the letter dated May 11th, which AFP obtained a copy of on Sunday, Minniti and Thomas de Maiziere said they "are convinced that we all must do more" to "prevent that hundreds of thousands of people once again risk their lives in Libya and on the Mediterranean Sea in the hands of smugglers."

Last year, a record 181,000 migrants reached Italy, 90 percent of them from Libya.

During his brief visit on Monday to Tripoli, Minniti also held talks with Government of National Unity head Fayez al-Sarraj on fighting illegal immigration.

READ MORE: The changing face of the Mediterranean migrant crisisThe changing face of the Mediterranean migrant crisis
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Source=https://www.thelocal.it/20170516/italy-gives-libya-four-patrol-boats-to-bolster-coastguard