Tu­nisian fish­er­men vow to block anti-mi­grant ship

Muscat Daily - - REGION -

Aboard the MS Aquar­ius - Tu­nisian fish­er­men vowed on Sun­day 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 anti-im­mi­gra­tion group ‘Gen­er­a­tion Iden­tity’, passed through wa­ters off Libya on Sat­ur­day. It briefly tailed the MS Aquar

ius, 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 40m 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 said. “Mus­lims and Africans are dy­ing.”

An of­fi­cial at the port 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 che- quered 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 Europe - ex­actly 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.

On Sun­day, 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.


The C-Star ves­sel, hired by far-right ac­tivists against mi­grants reach­ing Europe, an­chored in the Mediter­ranean port of Fa­m­a­gusta

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