Libyan coast guard intercepts packed migrant boat

Migrants arrive at a naval base in Tripoli after they were rescued by Libyan Navy on Saturday. (Reuters)
Updated 05 November 2017
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Libyan coast guard intercepts packed migrant boat

TRIPOLI/ROME: Libya’s European-backed coast guard on Saturday turned back more than 150 migrants trying to reach Italy by boat amid its heightened efforts to block such crossings of the Mediterranean.
The migrants, packed into a single rubber boat, were intercepted off the coast between the towns of Al-Khoms and Garabulli, east of Tripoli, after traveling through the night.
The boat was close to an Italian coast guard ship patrolling in international waters when they were cut off and taken aboard a Libyan vessel, dashing their hopes of reaching Europe. The rubber boat was being rocked by heavy waves and the motor had cut out.
“We were shouting, ‘they are blocking us, they are blocking us’. We were crying, pleading for help,” said Patrice Emani, a 27-year-old from Mali.
He said he was making his second attempted crossing from Libya. He was detained in the western Libyan city of Zawiya earlier this year, but his family paid for him to be released.
The captain of the Libyan ship that returned the migrants to Tripoli port, Col. Abdelhamid Adengouz, said they had been rescued from drowning in rough conditions, with cooperation from Italy.
“The migrants were saved from death,” he said. “There was an Italian ship present that helped us.”
A large majority of migrants traveling to Europe by sea depart from western Libya, where people smuggling has flourished amid lawlessness and a collapsing economy.
But there has been a sharp drop in departures since July due to armed factions preventing boats from leaving parts of the coast and increased activity from Libyan coast guard units, which have received training and technical support from Italy and the EU.
Human rights groups have criticized European policy, saying no migrants should be returned to a country where they face widespread abuse.
After migrants are brought back to Libya, they are registered by international agencies before being taken to overcrowded detention centers. Some are offered the chance to return home, while others languish in detention or seek a way out.
Most of those intercepted on Saturday were from West African countries, including Mali, Guinea, and Nigeria, and some were from Bangladesh. All but one were male.
They said they had paid between 1,500 and 3,000 Libyan dinars ($176-$353 at unofficial market rates) to make the crossing.
“I suffered a lot — kidnappings, demands for ransom,” said Christopher Daniel, a 20-year-old Nigerian. “They blindfolded me and forced me to give them money,” he said of a period he spent in captivity in the southern city of Sabha last year.
“I don’t know what to say or do. All the money I have wasted — what will I tell my parents?”
All-female victims
The bodies of 26 women who drowned attempting the perilous crossing from Libya to Europe were brought to Italy on Sunday, where investigators launched a murder inquiry.
A seemingly endless line of black plastic body bags were lowered by crane from a Spanish ship onto the portside in Salerno, southern Italy, where they were placed in coffins and loaded onto waiting hearses.
Twenty-three of the women died on Friday after the inflatable dinghy they were traveling on sank, and their bodies were recovered by the Spanish ship Cantabria, which was operating as part of the EU anti-trafficking force Sophia.
A Sophia spokesman told AFP another three bodies had been discovered during other life-saving operations in the Mediterranean this week, and transferred to the Cantabria as it headed toward Italy with its grim cargo.
There was no immediate explanation as to why all the dead were women, though the crossing is riskier for them.


Hundreds of jobs axed in PLO cutback

Updated 22 April 2018
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Hundreds of jobs axed in PLO cutback

  • Among the departments to be axed from the PLO are social affairs, military, Jerusalem, sports, youth and the diaspora
  • Most of the PNC’s budget goes to pay salaries to staff who have little work to do

AMMAN: Hundreds of staff who are paid salaries but do little work will lose their jobs in a major downsizing of the Palestine Liberation Organization. 

The restructuring is aimed at ending the duplication of tasks by the PLO and the Palestinian government, and reducing the size of the 700-member Palestine National Council, which is expected to lose half its staff and half its budget. 

Among the departments to be axed from the PLO are social affairs, military, Jerusalem, sports, youth and the diaspora. Those that deal with refugees, planning, culture, media and the national fund will remain.

“Why do we need staff and offices in the PLO for such areas as social affairs and education, when we have major ministries in the government that are focusing on these areas?” Hanna Amireh, a member of the PLO’s executive committee, told Arab News. 

“When the PLO was responsible for all Palestinian affairs, this made sense, but now we have a government with relevant ministries and it doesn’t make sense to have such duplication.”

Most PLO staff belong to the various factions that make up the organization, and have been on the payroll for many years. This arrangement allowed these factions to provide jobs for their members. 

PLO sources told Arab News that the restructuring would also affect the Palestine National Council. The PNC holds occasional extraordinary meetings, but its full regular session scheduled for April 30 will be the first for 22 years.

Most of the PNC’s budget goes to pay salaries to staff who have little work to do. “The membership of the PNC will have to be cut in half, as will its budget,” a PLO source said. 

Najeeb Qaddoumi, a PNC member and senior Fatah activist in Jordan, confirmed that a restructuring would take place on April 30 but denied that it would be downsizing. “Some departments might be eliminated and others might be boosted,” he said.

Ali Qleibo, an artist, author and lecturer at Al Quds University, said the PLO had “exhausted its role since Lebanon and has caused chaos in the land.”

The downsizing will surprise analysts who had expected the Palestinians to revitalize the PLO after the failure of the peace process and the lack of trust in the Palestinian Authority.