Tu­nisian fish­er­men vow to block ‘racist’ anti-mi­grant ship C-Star

Fresh blow to mis­sion to dis­rupt flow of mi­grants

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

ABOARD THE MS AQUAR­IUS: Tu­nisian fish­er­men vowed yes­ter­day to block a ship car­ry­ing far-right ac­tivists from dock­ing at their port, deal­ing a fresh blow to their mis­sion to dis­rupt the flow of mi­grant boats from north Africa to Europe. The C-Star, a boat char­tered by an­ti­im­mi­gra­tion group “Gen­er­a­tion Iden­tity”, passed through wa­ters off Libya on Satur­day. It briefly tailed the Aquar­ius, op­er­ated by French group SOS Mediter­ra­nee, one of sev­eral NGO boats con­duct­ing search and res­cue op­er­a­tions in an area no­to­ri­ous for deadly mi­grant boat sink­ings.

Hav­ing left Cyprus on Au­gust 1, the 40-me­tre (130-foot) ves­sel was thought to be in need of sup­plies: but the fish­er­men in the south­east­ern Tu­nisian port of Zarzi had other ideas. “If they come here we’ll close the re­fu­elling chan­nel,” Chamsed­dine Bouras­sine, the head of the lo­cal fish­er­men’s or­gan­i­sa­tion, told AFP. “It is the least we can do given what is hap­pen­ing out in the Mediter­ranean,” he added. “Mus­lims and Africans are dy­ing.” An of­fi­cial at the port, who asked to re­main anony­mous, said: “What? Us let in racists here? Never!”

10,000 dead

The C-Star headed straight from Cyprus to Libyan wa­ters after be­ing dis­cour­aged from at­tempt­ing to dock en route in Greece and Si­cily, with author­i­ties con­cerned about the prospect of protests. The self-styled “De­fend Europe” mis­sion has had a che­quered his­tory to date. Their boat was held up for a week in the Suez Canal by Egyp­tian author­i­ties look­ing for weapons.

Then, after it landed in the Cypriot port of Fa­m­a­gusta last month, sev­eral of its crew jumped ship and asked for asy­lum in Europe­ex­actly the kind of thing the mis­sion was set up to pre­vent. The C-Star crew say their main goal is to ex­pose col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween NGO res­cue ships and the traf­fick­ers who launch boats packed with mi­grants from Libya. Hu­man­i­tar­ian groups say Gen­er­a­tion Iden­tity is en­gaged in a po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous pub­lic­ity stunt.

Since the start of 2014, some 600,000 peo­ple from Africa, the Mid­dle East and South Asia have been res­cued from traf­fick­ers’ boats and taken to Italy. Over 10,000 have died en route and se­rial sink­ings have re­sulted in pri­vately funded or char­ity-run boats join­ing a multi­na­tional search and res­cue op­er­a­tion co­or­di­nated by Italy’s coast­guard. NGO boats have res­cued around one third of the nearly 100,000 peo­ple picked up this year, but their re­la­tions with Italy have be­come strained as pres­sure to stem the flow of mi­grants has mounted.

Squalid camps

Crit­ics say the NGOs make it too easy for the traf­fick­ers to guar­an­tee would-be mi­grants safe pas­sage to Europe, al­legedly fu­elling the lu­cra­tive trade. Ital­ian author­i­ties last week im­pounded one NGO boat, the Iu­venta, which is op­er­ated by Ger­man as­so­ci­a­tion Ju­gend Ret­tet. They ac­cused its crew of be­ing in di­rect con­tact with traf­fick­ers to or­gan­ise pick-ups of boat­loads of mi­grants from lo­ca­tions very close to the Libyan coast.

Yes­ter­day, the Aquar­ius and Doc­tors with­out Borders (MSF) took part in a res­cue op­er­a­tion in which around 100 peo­ple were plucked from a dis­tressed dinghy. The num­ber of such res­cues in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters has fallen sharply over the last five weeks to un­der half the level of the same pe­riod last year. Ital­ian of­fi­cials are cau­tiously op­ti­mistic that this re­flects a break­through in their ef­forts to strengthen the Libyan coast­guard’s ca­pac­ity to com­bat traf­fick­ers.

The Libyan navy told AFP that be­tween Thurs­day and Satur­day the coast­guard, which has re­ceived train­ing and new equip­ment from Rome, had in­ter­cepted five trafficker boats car­ry­ing a to­tal of 878 peo­ple. Rights or­ga­ni­za­tions have voiced con­cern over the fo­cus on send­ing boats back to Libya. They say the mi­grants on board face de­ten­tion in squalid camps and the risk of tor­ture, sex­ual vi­o­lence and forced la­bor. Ital­ian of­fi­cials de­fend the strat­egy as the only way to end a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis threat­en­ing to over­whelm the coun­try’s re­cep­tion fa­cil­i­ties.

BARCELONA: Peo­ple sun­bathe close to crosses and pho­to­graphs of a dead mi­grants and refugees, and a ban­ner read­ing “In­vis­i­ble fron­tiers” on Barcelona’s Bo­gatell beach, dur­ing an ac­tion called by pro hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions “Tan­quem els CIE” (Let’s close the For­eign­ers De­ten­tion Cen­ters), “Im­mi­grant Space”, “Watch The Med” and “Stop Mare Mor­tum” to trib­ute the thou­sands of deaths in re­cent years in the Mediter­ranean sea.

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