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.


UN to deliver aid to Syrians trapped near Jordan border

Updated 9 min 15 sec ago
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UN to deliver aid to Syrians trapped near Jordan border

  • An estimated 50,000 women, children and men are stranded at the Rukban camp in southeast Syria near the Iraqi and Jordanian border
  • Jordan has allowed several humanitarian aid deliveries to the area following UN requests, but the borders remain closed

DAMASCUS, Syria: The UN said it was organizing a joint aid convoy with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to tens of thousands of Syrians stranded in the desert near the Jordanian border.

The world body said the convoy would deliver “humanitarian assistance to an estimated 50,000 women, children and men who are stranded at the Rukban camp in southeast Syria near the Iraqi and Jordanian border.”

“The overall humanitarian situation inside the Rukban camp is at a critical stage,” said Ali Al-Za’tari, the UN’s top official in Damascus.

Linda Tom, a spokeswoman for the UN’s humanitarian coordination office, OCHA, said the world body was “deeply concerned over the deteriorating humanitarian situation” at the camp.

A suicide bombing claimed by Daesh in June 2016 killed seven Jordanian soldiers in no-man’s land near the nearby Rukban crossing.

Soon afterwards, the army declared Jordan’s desert regions that stretch northeast to Syria and east to Iraq “closed military zones.”

The kingdom, part of the US-led coalition fighting Daesh, has allowed several humanitarian aid deliveries to the area following UN requests, but the borders remain closed. 

The camp, home to displaced people from across Syria, also lies close to the Al-Tanf base used by the US-led coalition fighting IS.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the camp suffers from a severe lack of food and medicines, compounded by its remote desert location, the closure of the Jordanian border and regime forces cutting off all roads to it.

The last delivery of UN aid to Rukban took place in January 2018 through Jordan.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF last week urged warring parties in Syria to allow basic health service deliveries to the camp, saying two babies without access to hospitals had died there within 48 hours.

On Thursday, UN humanitarian aid expert Jan Egeland confirmed the regime had agreed to allow convoys of aid to the Rukban area.

He said Russian officials had told him Syria’s regime had withdrawn a controversial law that allowed for authorities to seize property left behind by civilians who fled fighting in the country’s civil war.

Egeland of the office of UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura also confirmed he will leave his post in November. 

He spoke a day after de Mistura told the UN Security Council that he is leaving for “personal” reasons.

The envoy said that he will make a final effort before stepping down next month to advance toward a new constitution for Syria — a key step in ending the country’s civil war.

De Mistura announced at the end of a Security Council briefing that he is leaving the job in late November for “purely, purely personal reasons” related to his family after four years and four months in one of the toughest UN jobs.

He told council members that objections by the Syrian government are still holding up the launch of the committee meant to draft a new constitution.

While there is agreement on the 50-member government and opposition delegations for the drafting committee, de Mistura said the government objects to a third 50-member delegation that the UN put together representing Syrian experts, civil society, independents, tribal leaders and women.

De Mistura said he has been invited to Damascus next week to discuss the committee’s formation.

He said he also intends to invite senior officials from Russia, Turkey and Iran — the guarantor states in the so-called “Astana process” aimed at ending the violence in Syria — to meet him in Geneva, and to talk to a group of key countries comprising Egypt, France, Germany, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Britain and the US.