Ship at core of mi­grant row let go

Waikato Times Weekend - - WORLD -

CYPRUS: A ship char­tered by hard-Right ac­tivists in­tend­ing to high­light the threat of peo­plesmug­gling in the Mediter­ranean was de­tained in Cyprus on Thurs­day amid al­le­ga­tions some of its Sri Lankan crew had paid smug­glers to help them es­cape to Europe.

The al­le­ga­tions, strongly de­nied by the De­fend Europe group that char­tered the C-Star ves­sel, were the sub­ject of a court hear­ing in north­ern Cyprus af­ter five of the Sri Lankan crew claimed po­lit­i­cal asy­lum on the is­land.

The row, which was picked up by lib­eral NGOs hos­tile to the De­fend Europe project, saw the C-Star’s cap­tain and his deputy be­ing ar­rested and de­tained on sus­pi­cion of forg­ing doc­u­ments af­ter it was al­leged some of the Sri Lankan crew were trav­el­ling on false pa­pers.

But C-Star and its crew were later re­leased by Turk­ish Cypriot author­i­ties and es­corted out of ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters by a coast­guard ves­sel af­ter a de­ci­sion was made that there was in­suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to pros­e­cute.

The episode is the lat­est hitch in the trou­bled pas­sage of the C-Star, which has been sail­ing in the Mediter­ranean to high­light what ac­tivists be­lieve is the Euro­pean Union’s failed mi­gra­tion pol­icy that is fu­elling the peo­plesmug­gling trade based in Libya.

Court doc­u­ments showed that Alexan­der Schleyer, a prom­i­nent Ger­man Right-wing ac­tivist, and Sven To­mas Eger­strom, a Swedish na­tional, who owns the ship, had both been re­manded into po­lice cus­tody.

A state­ment by De­fend Europe said the C-Star crew had in­cluded 20 ‘‘ap­pren­tice’’ sailors who were ac­cru­ing hours for their diplo­mas and had been due to re­turn home from Egypt, but when this proved im­pos­si­ble, dis­em­barked in Cyprus.

Fif­teen of the 20 flew out of the air­port, while the re­main­ing five of the asy­lum.

The Refugee Rights As­so­ci­a­tion, a lo­cal NGO, claimed the Sri Lankans said they had paid $10,000 to be taken to Italy, a claim re­jected by De­fend Europe, which said the five had been en­ticed into claim­ing asy­lum by the NGOs.

Faika Deniz Pasha, an as­so­ci­ate of the Refugee Rights As­so­ci­a­tion in north­ern Cyprus, said that five of the Sri Lankans had claimed they were not sailors but had paid to board the ship to get to Italy.

’’They told my or­gan­i­sa­tion and the po­lice they paid some­thing cor­re­spond­ing to $10,000 in lo­cal cur­rency to get to Italy,’’ she said, dis­miss­ing

Sri Lankans claimed De­fend Europe’s claims her NGO had ‘‘bribed’’ the Sri Lankans as ‘‘ridicu­lous and of­fen­sive’’.

Lo­cal me­dia sources in Cyprus said the five in ques­tion had been granted 10-day visas while their claims were as­sessed.

How­ever, the court had made no firm de­ter­mi­na­tion whether the Sri Lankans’ pa­pers had been forged.

Schleyer is no stranger to the sea, hav­ing spent two years as a sea­man on a Ger­man navy in­tel­li­gence ship be­fore mov­ing into pol­i­tics in Aus­tria, where he was a par­lia­men­tary as­sis­tant in the far­Right Aus­trian Free­dom Party un­til im­ages emerged of him pos­ing in front of the Ger­man im­pe­rial flag.

For weeks, the ac­tivists from Europe and abroad have been crowd-fund­ing to raise money to go on an anti-NGO mis­sion they said was aimed at pa­trolling and mon­i­tor­ing the mi­grant route off Libya.

Their orig­i­nal plan was to bring the C-Star to Si­cily in mid-July.

How­ever, the mayor of Cata­nia, the Si­cil­ian port where refugees are be­ing landed in large num­bers, has re­quested author­i­ties not to al­low the C-Star to dock in Cata­nia be­cause of con­cerns over pub­lic or­der. – Tele­graph Group

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