The Scottish Mail on Sunday

Char­i­ties ‘pay peo­ple traf­fick­ers’

Libyan coast­guard’s as­ton­ish­ing claim…cash handed to crim­i­nal gangs so they ‘de­liver’ refugees

- From BAR­BARA JONES IN TRIPOLI Ad­di­tional re­port­ing: Jonathan Bucks Charity · Society · Libya · Europe · European Union · Africa · organization · Sicily · Italy · Medecins Sans Frontieres · Ministry of National Defence and Sport · Ministry of Defence · Save the Children · international waters · Royal Navy · Tajura · Migrant Offshore Aid Station · Jugend Rettet

REFUGEE char­i­ties are pay­ing peo­ple smug­glers to ferry mi­grants to their res­cue boats pa­trolling off Libya, it was claimed last night.

A se­nior Libyan coast­guard of­fi­cial told The Mail on Sun­day he had ev­i­dence that aid agen­cies were stump­ing up cash for mi­grants des­per­ate to reach Europe but who can­not af­ford to pay ruth­less traf­fick­ers.

Colonel Tarek Shan­boor said he had ob­tained bank de­tails and phone records that proved the char­i­ties were mak­ing pay­ments to crim­i­nal gangs who have put hun­dreds of thou­sands of mi­grants into un­sea­wor­thy boats – lead­ing to thou­sands of deaths each year.

His claim will raise con­cern be­cause there have long been fears that Is­lamic ex­trem­ists could be among the mi­grants.

Char­i­ties pa­trolling off north­ern Africa claim they are only there to res­cue mi­grants.

But Colonel Shan­boor said aid agen­cies were now en­cour­ag­ing more and more mi­grants to make the per­ilous trip. He claimed he had handed ev­i­dence of col­lu­sion be­tween char­i­ties and traf­fick­ers to EU bor­der se­cu­rity of­fi­cials in Brus­sels, though he re­fused to go into de­tail.

Speak­ing ex­clu­sively to the MoS he said: ‘The non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions (NGOs) are adding to the cri­sis by ac­tively en­cour­ag­ing in­creas­ing num­bers of mi­grants. Now we have the ev­i­dence they are in ca­hoots with the smug­glers. We have ev­i­dence the smug­glers call the NGOs di­rectly and there are busi­ness deals be­tween them.’

Col Shan­boor claimed char­i­ties were pay­ing up £450 for each mi­grant’s pas­sage. He be­lieves their mo­tives are well-mean­ing but mis­guided.

Col Shan­boor’s ex­tra­or­di­nary ac­cu­sa­tion comes just months af­ter an in­ter­nal EU re­port re­vealed char­ity of­fi­cials in boats were in di­rect con­tact with mi­grant ves­sels and even gave them pre­cise di­rec­tions to find res­cue ves­sels. This year has al­ready seen record num­bers of mi­grants at­tempt­ing the per­ilous cross­ing from Libya to Lampe­dusa and Si­cily, turn­ing Italy into the front line of the cri­sis. A Si­cil­ian pros­e­cu­tor has launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­leged col­lu­sion be­tween traf­fick­ers and char­i­ties and ac­cused NGOs of fu­elling the mi­grant cri­sis in Europe. Last month, about 1,500 mi­grants – among them hun­dreds of chil­dren and preg­nant women – were res­cued from rick­ety ves­sels by one of the char­i­ties, Medecins Sans Fron­tieres (MSF). And a leaked in­tel­li­gence re­port sug­gested more than six mil­lion asy­lum seek­ers, in­clud­ing Syr­i­ans flee­ing civil war, are wait­ing to cross into Europe. The huge surge has led to more than 1,200 deaths al­ready this year as smug­gling gangs in lawless Libya re­sort to in­creas­ingly un­der­hand tactics. Ac­cord­ing to the Min­istry of De­fence, the Bri­tish Navy has res­cued 14,900 mi­grants in to­tal as part of the EU ef­fort to crack down on the peo­ple smug­gling trade.

Since 2014, when the EU’s mar­itime ef­forts shifted from search and res­cue to bor­der con­trol, char­i­ties have de­ployed dozens of their own mis­sions to fill the gap.

Char­i­ties in­clud­ing Save the Chil­dren and MSF ar­gue their op­er­a­tions save lives near the coast, but crit­ics in­clud­ing the Libyan coast­guard say search and res­cue en­cour­ages traf­fick­ers and has trans­formed the cen­tral Mediter­ranean into a mag­net for mi­grants.

In a re­port last year, the EU bor­der agency Fron­tex claimed ‘all par­ties in­volved in search and res­cue op­er­a­tions in the cen­tral Mediter­ranean un­in­ten­tion­ally help crim­i­nals achieve their ob­jec­tives at min­i­mum cost [and] strengthen their busi­ness model by in­creas­ing the chances of suc­cess’.

In another leaked doc­u­ment, Fron­tex re­ported the ‘first case where the crim­i­nal net­works were smug­gling mi­grants di­rectly on an NGO ves­sel’ and a sep­a­rate case where it said mi­grants were given ‘clear in­di­ca­tions be­fore de­par­ture on the pre­cise di­rec­tion to be fol­lowed in or­der to reach the NGOs’ boats’.

A Fron­tex spokesman told this news­pa­per there had even been one oc­ca­sion when a char­ity boat used its light as a bea­con for mi­grants head­ing to Europe, but said it had no ev­i­dence smug­glers were be­ing paid by char­i­ties.

Mean­while, Carmelo Zuc­caro, a Si­cil­ian mag­is­trate, has launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into col­lu­sion be­tween traf­fick­ers and char­i­ties and said he was col­lect­ing ev­i­dence of crim­i­nal­ity.

Col Shan­boor said that in a des­per­ate ef­fort to stamp out the smug­gling trade once and for all he had re­sorted to hir­ing a Tripolibas­ed mili­tia to pa­trol the coast with his po­lice force.

‘This is a last-ditch at­tempt to stop the crim­i­nal trade along our coast. The Ta­joura fight­ers should be able to dis­man­tle the mafia groups. We are declar­ing war on the peo­ple smug­glers this way,’ he said.

Last night, char­i­ties op­er­at­ing in the cen­tral Mediter­ranean all de­nied claims they had any con­tact with smug­glers and dis­missed sug­ges­tions of pay­ment.

A spokesman for Mi­grant Off­shore Aid Sta­tion (MOAS), which was launched by a phi­lan­thropist mil­lion­aire cou­ple in 2014, said: ‘MOAS con­ducts rig­or­ous due dili­gence on donors, spon­sors and part­ners and abides by codes of eth­i­cal fundrais­ing when deal­ing with both na­tional and pri­vate sources of fund­ing.’

Julien Pahlke, a spokesman for Dutch char­ity Ju­gend Ret­tet, which has one res­cue boat off the Libyan coast, said: This is en­tirely false and sounds like at­tempts to dam­age our rep­u­ta­tion and vil­ify us. We have never had any con­tact with smug­glers and we would never co­op­er­ate with them.

‘They see us as en­e­mies be­cause they think we’re fu­elling the cri­sis. But the EU is not heav­ily in­volved in res­cue so mi­grants see us as the key to get to Europe.’

Sea-Watch, a Ger­man char­ity with two res­cue boats in the Mediterra-

‘Mi­grants see us as the key to Europe’

nean, de­scribed the claims as ‘ridicu­lous’. MSF and Save the Chil­dren, both of which have launched hun­dreds of res­cue op­er­a­tions in the Mediter­ranean, de­nied the claims.

MSF search and res­cue co­or­di­na­tor Michele Trainiti said: ‘MSF does not have any con­tact, ne­go­ti­a­tions or ex­change with smug­gling net­works any­where. MSF search and res­cue boats do not re­ceive alerts or dis­tress calls from smug­glers and never have.’

A spokesman for Save the Chil­dren said: ‘We do not com­mu­ni­cate with traf­fick­ers or peo­ple smug­glers and be­lieve all is­sues of se­cu­rity and traf­fick­ing need to be han­dled by the rel­e­vant Euro­pean au­thor­i­ties. We do not pay smug­glers for mi­grants. Ad­di­tion­ally, we work un­der the co-or­di­na­tion of the Ital­ian coast­guard and have no di­rect con­tact with ves­sels in dis­tress. We op­er­ate in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters, mov­ing closer to ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters only if in­structed by the Ital­ian coast­guard.’

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 ??  ?? DE­NIAL: The logo of Save the Chil­dren
DE­NIAL: The logo of Save the Chil­dren
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 ??  ?? Thou­sands of refugees head­ing for Europe have been res­cued from the Mediter­ranean by char­i­ties such as Sea-Watch, pic­tured on a mis­sion last sum­mer, which strongly de­nies pay­ing peo­ple smug­glers
Thou­sands of refugees head­ing for Europe have been res­cued from the Mediter­ranean by char­i­ties such as Sea-Watch, pic­tured on a mis­sion last sum­mer, which strongly de­nies pay­ing peo­ple smug­glers

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