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IOM investigates reports of deliberate drowning of 500 migrants in Mediterranean

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Italy official calls for exit strategy on migrant boat patrolsInvestigators from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have obtained eyewitness testimony of a tragic incident in which as many as 500 migrants were drowned when their vessel was deliberately sunk in the Mediterranean.

These reports point to a growing death toll off Europe’s shores which this year already approaches 3,000. That’s nearly four times the figure from 2013, which IOM’s Missing Migrants Project estimated to be 700 deaths.

“The numbers dying off Europe’s coasts are shocking and unacceptable,” said IOM’s Director General William Lacy Swing. “These are women, children and men who only hope for a more dignified life. The risks they take reflect their desperation and we cannot keep abandoning them to their fate.”

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IOM staff and Italian police have interviewed two survivors brought ashore to the town of Pollazzo in Sicily. Both are Palestinian men from Gaza who were rescued separately after days in the water clinging to flotation devices. They told investigators that their overcrowded vessel was sent to the bottom by enraged smugglers when demands that they move to a less seaworthy vessel were rejected by the migrants. The survivors, aged 27 and 33, who have requested asylum, described harrowing scenes as exhausted victims succumbed all around them.

By Tuesday morning authorities in Italy, Malta and Greece had confirmed to IOM staffers the rescue of ten migrants from the lost vessel. Additionally, three bodies from the shipwreck have been found.

The survivors in Sicily told IOM that they left the port of Damietta in Egypt on Saturday, September 6th, with some 500 men, women and children from the Middle East and Africa aboard. They said they were forced to switch vessels several times but resisted a switch to a replacement craft they deemed un-seaworthy. Enraged, the traffickers reportedly rammed the boat with their own, the witnesses said.

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The two witnesses told IOM staff they fled Gaza through Egypt at the beginning of September.

According to their testimony there were Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians and Sudanese aboard.

“If survivors’ reports are confirmed, this will be the worst shipwreck of migrants in years, not an accidental tragedy, but the apparent deliberate drowning of migrants by criminal gangs who extort money for their desperate journeys. Their actions are as callous as they are evil,” said IOM spokesperson Leonard Doyle.

Other survivors of the tragedy who were brought ashore in Crete confirmed that there were some 500 migrants on the vessel when it sank.

Most of the 500 passengers drowned, but others managed to remain afloat by holding on to debris and flotation devices.  After almost two days in the sea, a Panamanian-flagged merchant vessel “Pegasus”, carrying 386 migrants rescued from yet another boat, found the two Palestinian men floating in the water. They were taken to the Italian port of Pozzallo two days ago where they remain in a state of exhaustion and shock after their experience.

A UK-flagged vessel saved another five adults and a child from the sea and they are now in Crete. Two others were rescued off Malta.

Authorities are also investigating a report that a further 200 people are missing, presumed drowned in an incident off Libya and another 15 died off the coast of Egypt.

If these reports are verified, the death toll for the past week would be over 700 people lost at sea, making this one of the most deadly periods of recent years.

Economy

Issuance of green bonds will strengthen the international role of the euro

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Eurogroup ministers discussed the international role of the euro (15 February), following the publication of the European Commission's communication of (19 January), ‘The European economic and financial system: fostering strength and resilience’.

President of the Eurogroup, Paschal Donohoe said: “The aim is to reduce our dependence on other currencies, and to strengthen our autonomy in various situations. At the same time, increased international use of our currency also implies potential trade-offs, which we will continue to monitor. During the discussion, ministers emphasized the potential of green bond issuance to enhance the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate transition objective.”

The Eurogroup has discussed the issue several times in recent years since the December 2018 Euro Summit. Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism said that overreliance on the dollar contained risks, giving Latin America and the Asian crisis of the 90s as examples. He also referred obliquely to “more recent episodes” where the dollar’s dominance meant that EU companies could not continue to work with Iran in the face of US sanctions. Regling believes that the international monetary system is slowly moving towards a multi-polar system where three or four currencies will be important, including the dollar, euro and renminbi. 

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European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, agreed that the euro’s role could be strengthened through the issuance of green bonds enhancing the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate objectives of the Next Generation EU funds.

Ministers agreed that broad action to support the international role of the euro, encompassing progress on amongst other things, Economic and Monetary Union, Banking Union and Capital Markets Union were needed to secure the euros international role.

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EU

European human rights court backs Germany over Kunduz airstrike case

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An investigation by Germany into a deadly 2009 airstrike near the Afghan city of Kunduz that was ordered by a German commander complied with its right-to-life obligations, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday (16 February), writes .

The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court rejects a complaint by Afghan citizen Abdul Hanan, who lost two sons in the attack, that Germany did not fulfil its obligation to effectively investigate the incident.

In September 2009, the German commander of NATO troops in Kunduz called in a U.S. fighter jet to strike two fuel trucks near the city which NATO believed had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents.

The Afghan government said at the time 99 people, including 30 civilians, were killed. Independent rights groups estimated between 60 and 70 civilians were killed.

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The death toll shocked Germans and ultimately forced its defence minister to resign over accusations of covering up the number of civilian casualties in the run-up to Germany’s 2009 election.

Germany’s federal prosecutor general had found that the commander did not incur criminal liability, mainly because he was convinced when he ordered the airstrike that no civilians were present.

For him to be liable under international law, he would have had to be found to have acted with intent to cause excessive civilian casualties.

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The European Court of Human Rights considered the effectiveness of Germany’s investigation, including whether it established a justification for lethal use of force. It did not consider the legality of the airstrike.

Of 9,600 NATO troops in Afghanistan, Germany has the second-largest contingent behind the United States.

A 2020 peace agreement between the Taliban and Washington calls for foreign troops to withdraw by May 1, but U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the deal after a deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan.

Germany is preparing to extend the mandate for its military mission in Afghanistan from March 31 until the end of this year, with troop levels remaining at up to 1,300, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

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EU

Digitalization of EU justice systems: Commission launches public consultation on cross-border judicial co-operation

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On 16 February, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the modernization of EU justice systems. The EU aims to support member states in their efforts to adapt their justice systems to the digital age and improve EU cross-border judicial co-operation. Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders (pictured) said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of digitalization, including in the field of justice. Judges and lawyers need digital tools to be able to work together faster and more efficiently.

At the same time, citizens and businesses need online tools for an easier and more transparent access to justice at a lower cost. The Commission strives to push this process forward and support member states in their efforts, including as regards facilitating their cooperation in cross-border judicial procedures by using digital channels.” In December 2020, the Commission adopted a communication outlining the actions and initiatives intended to advance the digitalization of justice systems across the EU.

The public consultation will gather views on the digitalization of EU cross-border civil, commercial and criminal procedures. The results of the public consultation, in which a broad range of groups and individuals can participate and which is available here until 8 May 2021, will feed into an initiative on digitalisation of cross-border judicial cooperation expected at the end of this year as announced in the 2021 Commission's Work Programme.

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