Libya threatens to ‘seize’ boats
Over 20 rescued
TRIPOLI, Sept 28, (Agencies): Libya’s navy warned it will seize activists’ boats on migrant rescue missions that enter its waters unauthorised, after a run-in Wednesday with a German vessel during which a warning shot was fired.
“This time we avoided an escalation. In future, we will seize the boats of NGOs that do not respect Libya’s sovereignty,” said navy spokesman General Ayub Kacem.
The Libyan coastguard earlier boarded a boat operated by Germany’s “Mission Lifeline” which had picked up 52 migrants at sea. “You are not welcome here,” a coastguard official said in a videotape posted on the internet by the NGO.
“They threatened us by telling us to hand over the people, which we refused,” said the group’s head Axel Steier, contacted by AFP.
“It was a real act of piracy because they boarded our boat without any authorisation,” he said.
Kacem said the boat had tried to flee with a coastguard official still on boat. “Our patrol fired in the air to force the NGO boat to stop,” the general said.
“These NGOs must respect our authority and our sovereignty. Our patience has reached its limit,” he added.
In August, the navy ordered foreign vessels to stay out of a coastal “search and rescue zone” for migrants headed for Europe, a measure it said targeted NGOs.
Meanwhile, more than 20 migrants or refugees were rescued and one child died Thursday on a Greek island after the boat they set sail in overnight from the nearby Turkish coast either capsized or sank, Greek authorities said.
A vessel from the European border agency Frontex patrolling the area initially picked up six people — one man, two women and three children — it spotted in the sea off the small southeastern island of Kastellorizo in the early hours of Thursday, the Greek coast guard said. The six were transported to land immediately because one of the children, a 9-year-old girl, needed medical attention, but she later died, the coast guard said. Another four of the survivors were hospitalized.
Greek authorities launched a search operation with patrol boats and a helicopter, and crews later found and rescued another 20 people – five children, two women and 13 men – who had managed to swim to a rocky coast on the island. One of the group was also hospitalized.
It was unclear what type of vessel the migrants had used and whether it sank or capsized. The coast guard said all on board had been accounted for and there were no missing people reported. Those injured were being transported to a hospital on the island of Rhodes.
Greece was the preferred route for refugees and migrants fleeing war and poverty in their homelands to seek access into the European Union until last year, when an EU-Turkey deal drastically reduced the number of people heading to Greek islands from the Turkish coast.
Despite the deal and the overcrowded conditions in the camps on the Greek islands, hundreds still make the journey every week, using often unseaworthy and overcrowded inflatable dinghies or small wooden boats.
Meanwhile, Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni on Wednesday called for asylum regulations to be standardised across Europe, saying immigration was one of the biggest challenges facing the continent and a major concern of EU citizens.
“We have to work on integration, on voluntary repatriations of people who don’t have the right to asylum, and standardise asylum at the European level because we can’t have 27 different asylum policies in Europe,” Gentiloni said
The Italian leader spoke at a press conference in Lyon, France, where he met with French President Emmanuel Macron, who in a speech Tuesday proposed an EU agency to handle asylum requests as part of his vision for reforming the bloc.
“What is considered one of the biggest concerns of our citizens must also be one of the major policies of our European Union “Gentiloni said about the immigration crisis facing the continent since 2015.
The European Commission on Wednesday again called on the 27 member states – excluding Britain, which is leaving the bloc -- to quickly adopt a “lasting reform” of common regulations on asylum in Europe, which has been stalled for more than a year.
The right to asylum in Europe is currently the responsibility of the EU country where the asylum seeker arrive, a procedure Brussels wants to maintain while adding a “correction mechanism” to help countries that are coping with a huge influx of migrants -- such as Italy and Greece.