Anti-migrant boat crew arrested for alleged people trafficking in Cyprus

Anti-migrant boat crew arrested for alleged people trafficking in Cyprus
The crew of an anti-migrant boat was arrested Wednesday in Turkish-controlled Northern Cyprus for allegedly smuggling 21 Sri Lankans. The boat is associated with the far-right Identitarian movement in Europe which opposes immigration and Islam.

“There are places across Europe … in France, in the UK … which are suffering the consequences of this already… The Islamic religion risks provoking danger, disturbing public order, and upsetting social and cultural values. Natural Europeans are being substituted,” said Lorenzo Fiato, a 24-year-old graduate from Milan, who heads the Generation Identity movement’s Italian faction, as cited by the Guardian.

Nine crew, including the captain, and the ship’s owner Sven Tomas Egerstrom, were arrested and remanded in custody charged with creating and using falsified documents. The crew had reportedly deactivated the ship’s antenna and automatic identification system.

“It was in Famagusta, but we don’t know if it is still there because we can’t locate it,” a marine police officer said. “They have clearly turned off the system. Because it is in Turkish-occupied territory, we can’t do anything about it. We can’t go and find out more.”  

The group alleges that the sailors on board the C-Star were there for training and accuse rival NGOs of bribing the sailors and encouraging them to stay in Europe and apply for asylum. Defend Europe claims five of the sailors accepted the offer while 15 others refused.

“Twenty-one Sri Lankans were on the ship. Some said they had paid smugglers to be taken to Italy,” Faika Pasa, a local human rights activist, told the media. “The crew will be held in custody before they are brought to court. It is very likely they will be deported.”

The Defend Europe mission was created by Generation Identity, established in France in 2002, and was crowdfunded online, raising $156,000 from more than 2,000 donors.

The group’s goal was to disrupt what it claims are “criminal NGO search and rescue vessels” as they conducted migrant rescues in the Mediterranean while cooperating with the Libyan Coast Guard to return any migrants they find to the nearest port, effectively preventing migrants from reaching Europe and returning them to human traffickers in Libya.

READ MORE: ‘People angry at money spent on migrants’ relocation’ – Italian mayor to RT

“Our objective is to collaborate with the Libyan Coast Guard in Tripoli and inform them if we find boats in Libyan waters so those traffickers can be arrested and their boats destroyed,” Italian representative of Defend Europe Lorenzo Fiato told the Telegraph.

The entire mission has been plagued with problems, having been refused docking rights in Egypt

Catania Mayor Enzo Bianco has formally requested Italian authorities prevent the C-Star from docking in Sicily. "They are not welcome guests here as they have come to seed intolerance," he said, as cited by The Telegraph.

“We are glad that the vessel has been stopped and its crew removed as we’ve been providing extensive briefings to authorities in the region, alongside our partners, and viewed the arrival of the C-Star into the volatile mix off the Libyan coastline as extremely unwelcome – and likely to increase the risk of loss of life in the area,” said Nick Ryan, spokesman for Hope not Hate.

Some 2,361 migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean so far this year according to figures from the IOM.  

"While the Identitarian movement has always used controversial and confrontational tactics the hiring of this ship is emblematic of a dangerous new confidence within the movement," Lowles told the IB Times UK.

"This is not the way to solve or address the refugee crisis on the Mediterranean," he added.