As Italy becomes increasingly frustrated with the number of African migrants reaching its shores, activists are taking matters into their own hands. They say they’re ready to sink migrant-trafficking ships and ensure that asylum seekers are returned to Libya.
Anti-immigration activists are threatening to sink boats used to transport migrants off the coast of Sicily to prevent them from bringing in more people.
“When we will be on the sea, we will find the boat of immigrants empty and then we will ensure that they are empty, we will sink it to be sure that they will not be used anymore by the smugglers,” organizer of Operation Defend Europe, Clément Galant, told Ruptly.
“So they can take them back to Africa”
When asked whether he or fellow activists would step in to save migrants who are drowning in the Mediterranean, Galant replied, “Yes, of course.”
“We want to stop the deaths on the sea and so if we see immigrants who are in danger in the sea, we will help them of course and then we will call the Libyan Coast Guard so they can take them back to Africa.” It’s however still unclear if the Libyans will work with the anti-immigration activists.
Galant and fellow activists have been gathering in Catania for days, awaiting the arrival of the 40-meter C-star ship, chartered by Defend Europe in a crowdfunding campaign.
The vessel, set to arrive in Catania later this month, will be used by Defend Europe to “overwatch the NGOs [rescuing migrants], record all of the radar signals, expose possible communication with the human traffickers and intervene when they are doing something illegal,” the group said in a video posted online.
Italy’s patience wearing thin
More than 93,000 migrants have arrived in Italy by boat this year, a 17 per cent increase from the same period in 2016, according to the Interior Ministry. The Italian government has called on fellow EU member states and Brussels to provide more support, but its patience is wearing thin.
Deputy Foreign Minister Mario Giro stated on Tuesday that the country could soon offer asylum seekers temporary visas, allowing them to travel around the rest of the EU.
“We don’t accept being turned into a European hotspot, or feeling guilty because we rescue people, so deciding what to do with the migrants who arrive is everyone’s responsibility,” Giro said.
EU restricts inflatable boat sales to Libya
In a related development, the European Union has adopted limits on the export of inflatable boats to Libya in a bid to make it harder for smugglers to bring migrants to Europe.
The decision by the foreign ministers of the 28 EU states, which also covers outboard motors, was made on Tuesday in Brussels.
“We took a decision to introduce restrictions from today onwards on the export and supply to Libya of the inflatable boats and motors,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said.
“These are devices are used by traffickers for smuggling activities. This decision we have taken on the European Union level will help make their businesses and lives even more complicated,” the former Italian foreign minister told reporters.
The foreign ministers meanwhile extended until the end of 2018 an EU mission to help Libya re-establish effective controls mainly at its southern borders with Sudan, Chad and Niger where sub-Saharan African migrants pass through.
In another bid to stop smuggling, the EU has also trained 113 Libyan coast guard members in the last few months and plans to train another 75 starting in September, Mogherini told reporters.
Don’t go to Libya – UN
West Africa migrants and asylum-seekers must be dissuaded from going to Libya, the main point of departure for Europe but where they often face abuse and detention at the hands of traffickers, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has appealed to donors for funds to provide “meaningful alternatives” for people taking dangerous boat journeys to reach Europe.
“People should not go to Libya. We have no idea about the number of people losing their lives in those detention centres run by traffickers,” Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean situation, told a news briefing on Tuesday in Geneva.
“But when you interview the people in Italy, you just hear horror stories about people missing.”
More than 110,000 migrants and refugees have arrived by sea in southern Europe so far this year, including 92,000 in Italy, the UNHCR said. At least 2,360 have died at sea and an unknown number have perished in the Sahara desert trying to reach Libya.
Kwame Appiah with RT & AFP reports