Migrant crisis: Europol to investigate Egypt mass drowning

  • 6 December 2016
  • From the sectionWorld
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Iman Nasr Taha whose 17-year-old son Hamed Mohamed Hamed was on the boat that sank
Image captionIman Nasr Taha’s son Hamed was on the boat that sank – he is still missing

The European policing agency Europol is planning to investigate what is believed to be the biggest loss of a migrant boat in 2016, following a Reuters-BBC Newsnight investigation.

More than 500 people are thought to have died in the sinking on 9 April, but there has been no official inquiry.

Newsnight has established that the boat set sail from Egypt – not Libya, as the UNHCR stated at the time.

The head of Europol, Rob Wainwright, said the case was “uncomfortable”.

He welcomed the Reuters-BBC Newsnight investigation and promised “to look at it again” given “the absence of any clear answers”.

The UN estimates that 4,663 people have died this year attempting to cross the Mediterranean, making it the most deadly year on record. But the shipwrecks are frequently not investigated.

Muaz Ayimo from Ethiopia - he survived the sinkingImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionMuaz Ayimo from Ethiopia is one of 37 survivors of the shipwreck

Reuters and BBC Newsnight spent months piecing together the story of what happened to the ship that sank on 9 April 2016 – speaking to survivors, to relatives of the victims, and eventually tracking down the smugglers, the brokers, and the details of the ship that sank.

Thirty-seven people survived the shipwreck, but more than 500 are believed to have died. Those who perished came from Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Syria, Egypt and a number of other countries.

Each had paid around $2,000 (£1,600) to smugglers in the hope of reaching Italy.

Newsnight understands that the main boat – a trawler – set sail from the port of Rashid, just to the east of Alexandria in Egypt. At about 02:00 local time on the night of Saturday 9 April a fishing boat with around 200 additional migrants attempted to join the trawler, which by that time had around 300 people on board.

It began to list towards the fishing boat. The migrants tried to correct that by shifting to the other side, but they over-compensated and the trawler capsized.

Media captionSome extracts from John Sweeney’s report on the “forgotten shipwreck”
  • Newsnight’s John Sweeney and Stephen Grey from Reuters will be taking your questions on their investigation on the BBC Newsnight Facebook page at 13:00 GMT on Wednesday 7 December

According to survivors of the disaster, the fishing boat sped off, leaving about 100 people who were still alive and swimming in the water, to drown. One survivor told BBC Newsnight that he was threatened with a knife by a smuggler when he tried to help fellow migrants.

The first that was known of the shipwreck was a full week later when the Italian coast guard received a distress call from one of the survivors.

The smugglers had instructed those on board to say they had come from Libya – in order to avoid being repatriated to Egypt. A few days later, based on interviews with survivors in Greece, the UNHCR issued a press statement stating that the ship had left from Libya.

A photo of Muaz Ayimo with his wife and his daughter who died in the sinking
Image captionMuaz’s wife and daughter both died in the sinking

When presented with BBC Newsnight’s findings, the UN’s refugee agency said: “The UNHCR is not a law enforcement agency and investigating sea disasters or transnational organized crime is beyond our means, mandate and expertise.

“But with many thousands of lives having been lost on the Mediterranean… the need to bring to account those involved in the organized trafficking and smuggling of people couldn’t be clearer. The loss of life at sea has been truly appalling and we have been very vocal in denouncing it.”

Our investigation understands that the Greek coastguard did not refer the case to a criminal prosecutor because there was no indication any crime had been committed on Greek territory. Both the coastguard service and Nikos Paraskevopoulos, the Greek justice minister, declined to comment.


The Egyptian government has never publicly acknowledged the sinking, nor that the boat set sail from one of its harbours – leaving many of the victims’ families in limbo.

In July, a court in Alexandria convicted seven people in absentia – but for the lesser charge of fraud, rather than manslaughter or murder. Those convicted are still at large.

In a statement, the Egyptian Ministry of Justice told BBC Newsnight a new law had been ratified in November to help tackle illegal migration.

The ministry could not say what inquiries had taken place into the 9 April sinking, but added: “If the occurrence of such a crime is proven, Egypt certainly will not hesitate to conduct necessary investigations to uncover it.”

Find out more

A shot of the sea and the words

John Sweeney and James Clayton were reporting for BBC Newsnight. Watch their full investigation at 22:30 on BBC Two.

Read more: The forgotten shipwreck

John Sweeney and Stephen Grey from Reuters will be taking your questions on their investigation on the BBC Newsnight Facebook page at 13:00 GMT on Wednesday 7 December

Our World: The Forgotten Shipwreck is on the BBC News Channel at 21:30 Sunday 11 December and on BBC World News. It will be available to watch later via BBC iplayer

UN child rights report slams Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia continues to tolerate “severe” discrimination against girls and even teenage executions, according to the UN Committee of the Rights of the Child. It’s also condemned Riyadh for its warfare in Yemen.

Tourismus Saudi Arabien (AP)

The Geneva-based surveillance committee said on Friday that despite some law reform Saudi Arabia still did not recognize girls as “full” legal subjects and left them exposed to the whims of male guardians, a discriminatory dress code and domestic violence, including marital rape.

A recommended international minimum age of 18 for marriage was still being ignored by Saudi judges, who “frequently authorized girls” to marry as soon as they reached puberty, the committee said.

In 2014, a religious leader had even declared himself to be in favor of girls’ marriage from “9 years old” – a practice often misconstrued by judges as being in the child’s “best interests,” the committee said in its report published Friday.

Guardianship meant that males exercised limits over girls in terms of their rights, such as freedom of movement and access to education and health care.

Sharia law still predominant

Precedence given to Sharia law by Saudi Arabia and a lack of monitoring in the kingdom combined to undermine the implementation of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, the report said.

Frau in Saudi-Arabien mit Kindern (AP)‘Numerous’ steps benefiting children, says Saudi Arabia

In reply, Saudi Arabia, which became a signatory in 1996, said “numerous legislative and practical measures” had been implementedsince the last UN committee review in 2006, notably a National Childhood Strategy that became operational from 2012.

That had included a campaign against bullying at schools and safety in kindergartens; the children’s sector represented one of the chief areas of government spending, Riyadh said.

‘Deep concern’ over child executions

The UN committee went on to express “deep concern” that Saudi Arabia executed people for offences allegedly committed under the age of 18 and put even 15-year-old’s on trial as adults.

It named six adolescents still facing execution and said a mass execution of 47 people on January 2, 2016 included four under the age of 18.

Saudi Arabia should “unambiguously” prohibit the death sentence on children “in line with its obligations” under Article 37 of the Convention, the committee said.

Abuse and torture remained authorized, despite a royal decree nominally banning them, according to the report, and was frequently used to coerce juveniles into signing confessions. The watchdog called for public education on non-violent forms of disciplining children.

‘Grave violations’ in Yemen

The UN committee said it was “deeply concerned” over “corroborated” information that Saudi Arabia had committed “grave violations of children’s rights” through its military operations in neighboring Yemen.

Starvation had been used as a method of warfare and “hundreds of children have been killed and maimed as a result of indiscriminate airstrikes and shelling.”

Safeguards for migrants

The committee urged Riyadh to repeal the “vaguely defined” offense of “apostasy” and to permit freedom of thought and expression. Apostasy is the act of leaving a religion, in this case Islam – and is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.

Children born to non-Saudis, born out of wedlock, born to migrants and religious minorities and those with disabilities were victims of “persistent discrimination,” according to the paper. It urged Saudi Arabia to adopt legislation to ensure that nationality could be transmitted to children through the maternal and paternal line “without distinction” and especially for children who otherwise end up stateless.

It also urged Saudi Arabia to ensure that migrant girls were not exploited as domestic workers and that their employers “be held accountable” in cases of abuse.

The committee commended Saudi Arabia for accommodating many refugees from Syria and Yemen, but added that a census was needed to establish specific needs of children.

ipj/msh (Reuters, AP)



Egypt: migrant boat death toll reaches nearly 150

The state news agency says 148 bodies have been pulled from the Mediterranean after Wednesday’s migrant boat sinking. A search operation continues amid reports that more bodies may still be in the vessel’s hold.

Bodies brought to shore

The MENA news agency on Friday revised up by 20 the death toll given by the Health Ministry earlier in the day.

Citing Wahdan el-Sayyed, the spokesman of the coastal province of Beheira, it said 148 bodies had been retrieved from the site of Wednesday’s capsizing.

El-Sayed told state television that rescuers had picked up more than 90 bodies on Friday alone.

The migrant boat, which local media reported was carrying between 300-400 people, sank on Wednesday off Burg Rashed, a village on the Nile Delta.

Destination Italy

Officials said the vessel was carrying Egyptian, Sudanese, Eritrean and Somali migrants, and that they believed it was heading for Italy.

Those onboard described how traffickers had overloaded the boat, which made it unsteady in the waters.

The dead included women and children who were unable to swim away when the boat sank.

Egyptian coast

Egypt’s state broadcaster reported that 163 people have been rescued, and four members of the crew were arrested.

A search operation continued on Friday, with rescuers saying they would focus on the boat’s hold where witnesses said around 100 people had been when the vessel capsized.

Perilous journeys

The EU’s border agency Frontex has warned that the sea crossing from Egypt to Italy was becoming increasingly popular. The journey, which often takes more than 10 days, is often made in barely seaworthy boats.

Traffickers are known to overload vessels to maximize profits from despite migrants, who pay hundreds or thousands of euros to make the journey.

More than 4,600 non-Egyptians have been arrested this year trying to leave by boat from Egypt’s northern coast.

Although overall migrant numbers plying the Mediterranean are down, the number of fatalities is up.

This year is set to be “the deadliest year on record in the Mediterranean Sea,” the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), said, after more than 3,200 people died trying to make the crossing.

Watch video00:52

More than 700 migrants rescued at the Mediterranean Sea in one day

mm/jil (AP, AFP, Reuters)



Germany migrants: Residents battle asylum seekers in Bautzen

  • 15 September 2016
  • From the sectionEurope
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Refugees and asylum-seekers in Bautzen on 14 SeptImage copyrightAP
Image captionAsylum seekers (pictured) were accused of taking over the central square in Bautzen

Residents have clashed with asylum seekers in a town in eastern Germany that has become a flashpoint for anti-refugee sentiment.

Some 80 locals, described by police as far-right, brawled with 20 young asylum seekers in Bautzen.

The asylum seekers were chased to their hostel and put under police guard.

The mayor said the town had to avoid becoming a playground for the far right. A curfew has been imposed on the young asylum seekers.

Anti-migrant tensions have been mounting in Bautzen this year.

Locals cheered when a building due to house migrants was set on fire in February.

The following month, President Joachim Gauck was verbally abused when he visited Bautzen to discuss the influx of refugees in Germany.

Bautzen and the nearby town of Niedergurig are home to four asylum shelters.

Bautzen is 60km (38 miles) east of Dresden, where the “anti-Islamisation” Pegida movement began.

Since the arrival last year of 1.1 million irregular migrants and refugees in Germany, some areas, particularly eastern states, have seen a rise in anti-migrant violence as well as support for the anti-Islam AfD party.

Germany’s federal police force says there have been 700 attacks on asylum accommodation this year, including 57 arson attacks.

An 18-year-old Moroccan showed reporters on Thursday the injuries he received during the violence (15 Sept)Image copyrightEPA
Image captionAn 18-year-old Moroccan showed reporters on Thursday the injuries he received during the violence

A region with a far-right reputation: analysis by Damien McGuinness, BBC News Berlin

Each fresh outbreak of refugee-related violence is potentially a political problem for Chancellor Angela Merkel. Some voters say large-scale migration could destabilise German society.

As a result the chancellor’s conservative coalition has been haemorrhaging voters to the insurgent anti-migrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. That’s a particular worry given that this weekend voters in Berlin region go to the polls, and next year Mrs Merkel’s national government faces re-election.

But many Germans from other parts of Germany are more likely to blame the clashes on racist sentiment, rather than see it as a product of the chancellor’s welcoming stance on refugees.

That is because this beautiful area of ex-communist eastern Germany already has a rather ugly reputation for neo-Nazi support and right-wing extremist violence.


Wednesday’s outbreak of violence in Bautzen was a dramatic escalation after days of tension in the town.

The clashes appeared to be triggered by an incident the previous evening, when a 32-year-old resident was hurt by a bottle being thrown.

On Wednesday night a group of some 80 people, described by police as right-wingers, shouted slogans at up to 20 young asylum seekers, accusing them of taking over the central Kornmarkt shopping centre.

Tensions escalated, fuelled by alcohol, and scuffles broke out.

Police said they tried to separate the groups and asked them to leave. Then the asylum seekers – all thought to have come to Germany as unaccompanied minors – hurled bottles and wooden sticks at the police, who responded with pepper spray and batons.

When they did disperse, they were pursued by the locals to a nearby asylum centre.

An ambulance crew was caught up in the clashes when far-right residents hurled stones at their vehicle as they tried to take an 18-year-old Moroccan asylum seeker to hospital for treatment.

“It wasn’t anarchy, but there was at least a chaotic phase that I would say lasted between 45 and 90 minutes,” said police chief Uwe Kilz.

Local mayor Alexander Ahrens said he would not tolerate the violence. “It cannot be that Bautzen turns into a playground for right-wingers spoiling for a fight”.

The young asylum seekers will now face an alcohol ban and a 19:00 curfew.

Europe migrant crisis: Germany expects ‘up to 300,000’ this year

  • 28 August 2016
  • From the sectionEurope
In this file photo taken Wednesday, 30 September 2015, hundreds of migrants and refugees wait for Berlin's State Office of Health and Welfare, the cities central registration point for asylum seekers in Berlin, Germany.Image copyrightAP
Image captionHundreds of thousands have applied for asylum since the mass influx of migrants into Germany last year

Germany expects up to 300,000 migrants to arrive in the country this year, the head of its Federal Office for Migration and Refugees said.

Frank-Juergen Weise told the Bild am Sonntagpaper that his office would struggle if more people came.

But he said he was confident the number of new arrivals would remain within the estimate.

More than one million migrants from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Africa arrived in Germany last year.

The German interior ministry says more than 390,000 people applied for asylum in the first six months of this year, but it is not clear how many of these may have arrived in the country in 2015.

Mr Weise said Germany would try to get as many of them on the job market as possible.

But he said the migrants’ integration in German society “would take a long time and cost a lot”.

Anti-Islam activists have staged an hour-long demonstration atop Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate Saturday 27 August 2016.Image copyrightAP
Image captionAround 15 protesters spent nearly an hour on top of the Brandenburger Gate on Saturday, with banners calling for “secure borders, secure future”

A poll this month showed just over half of Germans thought Chancellor Angela Merkel’s migrant policy was bad.

Support for anti-immigrant groups has risen.

On Saturday, members of a far-right movement scaled Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate and unfurled a banner to protest against what they called the “Islamisation” of Germany.

A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.

European migrant crisis: Shipwrecks ‘kill up to 700 migrants’

  • 29 May 2016
  • From the sectionEurope
Media captionWill Ross reports: “Bodies brought ashore”

Up to 700 migrants are feared drowned in a series of shipwrecks off the coast of Libya in the last few days, the UN refugee agency says.

The boats sank south of Italy on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday as the migrants tried to reach Europe in unseaworthy vessels.

Spring weather has led to a surge of people attempting the perilous crossing from Africa to Europe.

It is now a key migration route since a deal curbed numbers sailing to Greece.

Carlotta Sami, spokeswoman for UNHCR, gave details of the shipwrecks:

  • Almost 100 migrants are missing from a smugglers’ boat which capsized on Wednesday. Horrifying pictures of the incident and its aftermath were filmed by rescuers.
  • About 550 other migrants are missing from a boat which overturned on Thursday morning after leaving the Libyan port of Sabratha on Wednesday. Survivors said the boat had no engine and was being towed by a second smuggling vessel.
  • In a third shipwreck on Friday, 135 people were rescued, 45 bodies pulled from the water and an unspecified number of others are missing.

Meanwhile, the MSF Sea group suggested the death toll from the last week could be as high as 900.

Survivors are being taken to the Italian ports of Taranto and Pozzallo.

Media captionItalian Navy captain Francesco Iavazzo talks about the incident on Wednesday

Meanwhile, the Italian authorities have said the rescue of more than 600 migrants off Libya on Saturday by a flotilla of EU ships took the weekly total to at least 13,000.

Weekly boat rescues reach 13,000

The rescues were the latest by a multinational patrol of ships operating in the Mediterranean.

Carlotta Sami told the BBC: “[One of the most worrying things] is that all these ships have left together in just the last few days.. it has put rescuers under severe pressure.”

Pope Francis holds a life jacket which was donated to him by a migrantsImage copyrightAP
Image captionThe Pope met children at the Vatican on Saturday, telling them that migrants “aren’t a danger, but are in danger”

A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.

Greece begins moving migrants from Idomeni camp

  • 1 hour ago
  • From the sectionEurope
Police inspect tents at makeshift refugee camp at the Greek-Macedonian border near Idomeni, Tuesday, May 24, 2016Image copyrightAP
Image captionPolice could be seen moving among tents in the camp early on Tuesday

Greece has begun evacuating thousands of stranded migrants from the makeshift Idomeni camp on its northern border with Macedonia.

The operation began at dawn and witnesses reported police vehicles and buses standing by to transfer people to better organised facilities.

Hundreds of riot police have been deployed but officials say force will not be used.

At least 8,400 people – many of them women and children – are at the camp.

Most of them had been on their way to northern Europe when they became stranded after Macedonia closed its border with Greece.

They have been promised much better facilities at newly-created asylum processing centres near Greece’s second city Thessaloniki.

At least four bus loads of migrants were seen leaving the camp on Tuesday morning, with others leaving on foot or by taxi.

The migrants, mostly from conflict zones in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, had been reluctant to move away from the border – despite having to sleep in tents in very difficult conditions.

Media captionSamih came to the Idomeni camp in February and wasn’t able to continue his journey north. He showed the BBC what daily life is like.

But the mood among migrants was one of resignation in recent days, reports the BBC’s Yolande Knell from the scene.

One Syrian, Rezan, who has been living in the camp since early March, told the BBC he did not want to leave, but would if he had to.

“I prepared my bags. If they didn’t use force, I will stay for a while, but if they use force, I didn’t come here to fight anybody. I will just go. I escaped from Syria because I don’t want to fight anybody,” he said.

Migrants seen getting on coaches to leave Idomeni, on 24 May 2016Image copyrightAP
Image captionMigrants were seen getting on to buses at Idomeni…
A woman and her children on a bus leaving Idomeni, on 24 May 2016Image copyrightAP
Image captionMany are being taken to specially-created facilities near Thessaloniki

Police prevented journalists entering the camp on Tuesday morning but at least 20 police vans were seen going in while a police helicopter monitored the operation.

Giorgos Christides, a journalist at the camp for the German magazine Der Spiegel, told the BBC that police were determined to clear one part of the camp on Tuesday.

They are planning to complete the operation within 10 days, he added.

Speaking on Monday, government spokesman Giorgos Kyritsis told Greek television all migrants would be moved.

“A thing like Idomeni cannot be maintained. It only serves the interests of smugglers,” he said.

Migrants walk through mud at the migrant camp in Idomeni, Greece, Sunday 22 May 2016.Image copyrightAP
Image captionDespite miserable conditions, migrants have wanted to stay near the border
Migrants wait for the distribution of aid at Idomeni, Greece, Monday, May 23, 2016Image copyrightAP
Image captionAid agencies have struggled to help people in the squalid camp

Also on Monday, police were reported to have started removing about 2,000 people who have been blocking the rail track on the border.

The tracks have been blocked by the migrants for more than a month, forcing trains to re-route through Bulgaria further to the east.

Mr Kyritsis said that while the government did plan to reopen the railway, it was not planning a police sweep operation at the camp.

“Removing all the refugees from the disgrace which is Idomeni is in their own interest,” he said. “The rail track will open for the train to pass through normally but the fundamental thing is for the people to be transferred to where the conditions are humane.”

Macedonia’s decision to stop migrants crossing the border from Greece followed an announcement by Austria, further north, that it was tightening its own border controls.

Since then other Balkan countries have closed their own borders.

More than a million undocumented refugees and other migrants have entered the EU by boat from Turkey to Greece since early last year, generating an unprecedented crisis for the EU’s 28 member-states.

The European Commission told journalists on Monday it welcomed any initiative by Greece to evacuate migrants and move them to organised reception facilities.

A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.