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IMMIGRATION

Four workers for Norway NGO detained in Yemen

Four Yemenis working with the Norwegian Refugee Council have been detained in a rebel-held part of the country, the NGO said Monday.

Four workers for Norway NGO detained in Yemen
A market in Hodeida. Photo: Rod Waddington/Wikimedia Commons
The workers had distributed aid the insurgents allege is linked to Saudi Arabia.
 
In a statement, the NRC said authorities in the rebel-controlled Red Sea district of Hodeida detained three Yemeni staff and a contracted driver on Tuesday last week.
   
“Due to the security sensitivities regarding our staff, we cannot comment any further on the matter at this time,” said the Oslo-based non-governmental organisation.
   
In a statement carried by Yemen's pro-government sabanew.net news website, Local Affairs Minister Abdul Raqib Fattah had said earlier a dozen staff had been “abducted” from the aid group's offices in the Hali district of Hodeida last week.
   
Local sources told AFP the employees were accused of having accepted and distributed aid from a Saudi-led coalition, which has been battling the Huthis since March 2015.
   
The NRC said it did not take funding from Saudi Arabia in any of its operations but had been using recycled boxes to distribute hygiene kits in Yemen.
   
The group said when staff had opened the boxes to distribute the aid, the inside read “The campaign of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques for emergency response,” a reference to the Saudi king.
   
The boxes were dated January 2015 and had originally been used for food, according to the NRC.
   
Yemen's conflict pits a Saudi-led Arab coalition supportive of President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi against Iran-backed Huthis, who currently control the port of Hodeida along with the capital Sanaa and large parts of northern Yemen.
   
Monday's news comes amid a push by forces loyal to Hadi, backed by the Arab coalition, to close in on Hodeida, located on Yemen's western coast.
   
The loyalist forces took full control of Mokha, south of Hodeida, earlier in February as part of a major offensive to oust the Huthis and their allies from Yemen's southwestern coast.
   
The conflict escalated in March 2015 when the Saudi-led coalition began air strikes to help pro-Hadi forces to take large parts of the country back from the rebels.
   
More than 7,400 people have been killed and nearly 40,000 wounded in two years of fighting in Yemen, according to the World Health Organisation.
   
UN humanitarian coordinator for Yemen James McGoldrick in January said more than 10,000 civilians had been killed since 2015.

POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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