Monday, 20 April 2015

India: Tracking missing persons made easier

Tracking missing persons and identifying unidentified bodies have become easier for the police with the availability of information online. The police are now taking steps to empower the public in getting access to the same content so that the common man can track missing persons online.

Earlier the respective police station would send the pictures of missing persons or unidentified bodies for publishing in newspapers to identify or trace the persons. It was also manually sent to the nearby districts and the pictures were verified with that of the list of missing persons or unidentified bodies in those districts. But this was a highly cumbersome and time consuming process. Now, the pictures and the details of missing persons and unidentified bodies are uploaded online by the respective police stations soon after they received a complaint.

A senior police officer in the city said that the latest process has been of great help to the department over the last five years. The local police try to match the identity of the unidentified bodies here with the identity of persons who went missing in other places with the data available on the Internet. This has also helped in detecting such cases.

The police said that the recent effort to publicise the websites among the public was done to help them get direct access to information available to the police themselves. While the police have publicised a handful of websites where public could search for missing persons or unidentified bodies, the Crime and Criminal Tracking Network & Systems (CCTNS) system website of the police has more options using which the search could be made. Some of the search features that the website has are gender, age group, height range, date from which the person was missing, complexion, other visible identification marks and colour of dress of the missing person last seen wearing.

Monday 20 April 2015

continue reading

Bodies from migrant boat disaster brought to Malta, distress call from another boat reported

An Italian patrol ship arrived in Malta on Monday with 24 corpses recovered out of hundreds feared drowned after a migrant boat capsized in the Mediterranean, in one of the worst disasters yet in a growing humanitarian crisis.

The death toll from Sunday's shipwreck off the coast of Libya was uncertain after officials said there had been at least 700 people on board, some reportedly locked in the hold.

Italian media said a Bangladeshi survivor brought by helicopter to hospital in Sicily told police there had been 950 passengers on the boat, which sank when people on board rushed to one side to attract attention from a passing merchant ship.

A toll of that magnitude would push to over 1,500 the number of people who have died so far this year packed into rickety boats by human traffickers to cross the Mediterranean in a bid to reach a better life in Europe.

Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Monday the United Nations should mandate a force to intervene directly in Libya to disrupt or attack the traffickers and stop the boats from setting off.

The Italian coast guard said on Monday 28 people had been saved from where the ship sank, 70 miles (110 km) off the coast of Libya. The survivors are on the same boat as the victims and will be brought to Italy later in the day.

Lawlessness in Libya, where two rival governments are fighting for control, has made it almost impossible to police the criminal gangs who can charge thousands of dollars to bring mainly sub-Saharan Africans to Europe.

"I believe that the (European) focus should be what should be done in Libya to stop the boats," Maltese premier Muscat said. "Unless something is done about Libya, these scenes will be repeating themselves."

Before Sunday's disaster, the International Organisation for Migration estimated around 20,000 migrants had reached the Italian coast this year, and 900 had died.

Italy closed dedicated maritime search and rescue mission "Mare Nostrum" late last year, making way for a Europe-wide border control operation called "Triton" which has been criticised for having a much smaller budget and narrower remit.

EU foreign ministers will discuss the immigration crisis at a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday. Muscat will be in Rome on Monday to meet with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, followed by a news conference.

Distress calls from another migrant boat reported

A sinking boat, thought to be carrying more than 300 people across the Mediterranean Sea, is sending out distress signals, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) is reporting.

News of the latest incident at sea comes after more than 700 people were feared to have drowned on Saturday when an overcrowded boat capsized off Libya. Survivors have since said that some 900 people could have been on the vessel. This included between 40 to 50 children and 200 women, survivors told Italian media.

On Monday, the IOM chief William Lacy Swing called for the immediate restoration of Mare Nostrum, an Italian navy search-and-rescue operation which was stopped last year due to operating costs and political pressure to curb the flow of migration via the perilous Mediterranean crossing from war-torn Libya.

Swing also urged other European countries to support the operation.

EU ministers headed on Monday into crisis talks to discuss what a UN refugee agency UNHCR spokeswoman called "the worst massacre ever seen in the Mediterranean".

Carlotta Sami, the UNHCR spokeswoman, said survivors' testimonies suggested there had been around 700 people on board the 20-metre (70-foot) fishing boat when it keeled over in darkness overnight.

But a Bangladeshi survivor, who was taken to hospital by helicopter in Sicily,put the numbers on board at 950, and said 200 women and nearly 50 children had been among them, according to prosecutors in the Italian city of Catania.

Only 28 people are thought to have survived the wreck, Italian coastguard officials said.

The latest disaster comes after a week in which two other migrant shipwrecks left an estimated 450 people dead, with increasing boatloads coming from Libya as the North African country falls deeper into chaos.

"Get Mare Nostrum back out there, give it the support it needs to save these lives," IOM's Swing told AFP in an interview on the sidelines of a conference in the Indonesian capital Jakarta. "Mare Nostrum saved 200,000 lives between October 2013 and December 2014." He said that Triton, a much smaller EU-run operation that replaced the Italian one, was "not adequate".

"They don't have a mandate, they're a border protection agency, not a life-saving agency," he said, adding that Triton was not patrolling in the deep waters of the Mediterranean and did not have sufficient equipment.

Italy scaled back Mare Nostrum after failing to persuade its European partners to help meet its operating costs of $9.7 million a month amid divisions over whether the mission was unintentionally encouraging migrants to attempt the crossing.

However, Swing dismissed the claims and urged European countries to support the programme.

"There are 27 other members of the European Union, surely we can share responsibility for this and it would not cost anybody too much," he said. Monday 20 April 2015

continue reading

Mediterranean search under way for 700 migrants feared lost at sea

Italy launched a massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Sunday, after an overcrowded boat carrying hundreds of migrants capsized overnight off the coast of Libya. As many as 700 people are feared dead.

By nightfall Sunday, authorities said 28 people had been rescued about 200 kilometers south of the Italian island of Lampedusa, and another 24 bodies were recovered. Rescue workers said the majority of the missing appeared trapped in the 20-meter vessel at the bottom of the sea.

The boat capsized 193 kilometers south of the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, when it is believed migrants moved to one side of the vessel as a merchant ship approached.

If confirmed, the latest drownings would push the 2015 Mediterranean death toll past 1,500, compared to about 90 such refugee deaths in the same period a year ago.

Analysts say they expect human trafficking in the Mediterranean to worsen in the coming months, as warming weather and the promise of European stability and prosperity lure desperate refugees from Africa and beyond.

As details of Sunday's disaster spread, government leaders across Western Europe called for emergency talks to address the crisis.

"We have said too many times, never again," European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement. "Now is the time for the European Union as such to tackle these tragedies without delay."

In a televised address, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras urged the European Union to face the crisis head on. "The Mediterranean must stop being a graveyard sea, and southern European countries a storage [for] human souls," he said.

French President Francois Hollande directed his wrath at sea smugglers, who offer transit to desperate refugees seeking to flee Africa, South Asia and parts of the Middle East for the relative safety and prosperity of Europe.

But the huge rise in deaths in 2015, and the largely similar levels of arrivals in Italy, suggest the tactic has not worked. In Tripoli on Saturday, a smuggler told the Guardian he was not aware of Mare Nostrum in the first place, nor knew that it had finished.

“I’ve not heard of that. What is that – from 2009?” said the smuggler, who says his network organises 20 trips a week during the busy summer months. “Many people would go on the boats, even if they didn’t have any rescue operations.”

Migrants interviewed this week in Libya, the main launching pad for those seeking to reach Europe, say the demand will continue despite the deaths. Mohamed Abdallah, a 21-year-old from Darfur who fled war at home to find another war in Libya, said he could not stay in Libya, nor return to Sudan.

“There is a war in my country, there’s no security, no equality, no freedom,” Abdallah said. “But if I stay here, it’s just like my country … I need to go to Europe.”

Save the Children, one of the primary aid agencies working with migrants arriving in Italy, called on EU leaders to hold crisis talks in the next 48 hours and to resume search-and-rescue operations.

“It is time to put humanity before politics and immediately restart the rescue,” the organisation said in a statement. “Europe cannot look the other way while thousands die on our shores.”

Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, called for an urgent meeting of EU leaders this week.

“How can it be that we daily are witnessing a tragedy?” Renzi asked, before convening his own cabinet for an emergency meeting.

The EU commission for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, is due in Italy on Thursday. The EU indicated it would convene ministers to reevaluate its approach towards the crisis on its doorstep.

In Misrata, a major Libyan port, coastguards told the Guardian that the smuggling trips would continue to rise because Libyan officials were woefully under-resourced.

In all of western Libya, the area where the people-smugglers operate, coastguards have just three operational boats. Another is broken, and four more are in Italy for repairs. Libyans say they have been told they will not be returned until after the conclusion of peace talks between the country’s two rival governments.

“There is a substantial increase this year,” said Captain Tawfik al-Skail, deputy head of the Misratan coastguard. “And come summer, with the better weather, if there isn’t immediate assistance and help from the EU, then there will be an overwhelming increase.”

Save the Children has been on the front lines in the migrant crisis, and said it was growing increasingly worried about an expected increase in children making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.

On Friday, it reported that nearly two dozen badly burned Eritreans had landed in Lampedusa that morning, the victims of a chemical fire in the Libyan factory where they were held before their departure.

According to witness accounts, five people, including a baby, died in the blast – which occurred after a gas canister exploded – and the rest of the victims were not taken to hospital by the smugglers holding them. Instead, the injured were put on a ship bound for Italy a few days later. The victims were airlifted to hospitals across Sicily on their arrival.

The story was confirmed by UNHCR, which also interviewed survivors

Monday 20 April 2015

continue reading

Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories.

With a recent escalation in violence in eastern Ukraine's separatist conflict, the number of dead grows. Many fallen soldiers are buried without record, often in a grave without a name or tombstone. On the road to the village of Savur Mohyla near the Russian border, a Ukrainian volunteer team called Black Tulip is on a mission to collect bodies of fallen Ukraine government soldiers from rebel-held territory.

Little remains of the military positions that were here. But there is still danger from land mines and booby traps. Still, the team does this grim work without pay.

"There is one body here, we received information from local citizens, it was a fight over here in the end of August. Ukrainian soldiers were pushed back and one of the soldiers was left here," said Black Tulip volunteer Aleksey.

Despite coming from Ukrainian government-held territory, the team is able to work in separatist-controlled land through cooperation with the militaries on both sides.

"We transmit bodies from the Ukrainian side to the DNR [separatist] side and vice versa. There is an agreement between the government of DNR and the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, and when this agreement is confirmed, on that day we are able to cross the border," said Aleksey.

The separatists' commissioner for missing people, Lilia Radionova, helps coordinate the team. She says she gets thousands of request every day to help find missing persons - her desk piled with letters and photos from family members.

"I received a lot of phone calls from Ukrainian soldiers' relatives, mothers, fathers, wives. This is a Ukrainian soldiers' list of lost in action," said Radionova.

Although February's cease-fire agreement called for returning casualties and prisoners of war, getting permission for the team to work can be difficult. But Radionova says cooperation between the two sides is improving.

"When we submitted 22 bodies to them from Donetsk airport something changed, after this ultimatum we demanded something changed. Since January, we could not take our fallen from Volnovakha and now finally we received the bodies, thanks to them but at the moment there are many more bodies...Due to joint efforts we will have an agreement in future," she said.

The volunteers return with a body they think may be a rebel soldier. They say they will hand it to authorities for identification.

"We apply visual inspection of the body, sometimes there are some documents in pockets and we can use it to identify a person. If there are no documents, the only help is DNA analysis," said Aleksey.

More than 6,000 fighters and civilians have died in the conflict in eastern Ukraine over the past year, and with frequent cease-fire violations, the team's work is far from over.

Monday 20 April 2015

continue reading

More MH17 remains and personal effects recovered

Experts from the Dutch repatriation mission have recovered more remains at the crash site in eastern Ukraine on Sunday, where the site where flight MH17 crashed on July 17 last year according to a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

On the fourth day of the mission, the salvage workers worked without incident. "Consistent with our analysis we found at the burn site much remains," said mission leader Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg. "We are working hard. The conditions are not easy. It rains a lot and the temperatures are low, about 5 degrees. "

The salvage mission was resumed Thursday. The operation is an attempt to recover the last human remains and personal belongings to be transported to the Netherlands. The mission could take weeks. Because of the ongoing fighting and the cold winter months it was not possible to carry out salvage work in the disaster area until this week.

(Translated from Dutch)

Monday 20 April 2015

continue reading