Libya’s coast guard recovers dozens of bodies of migrants

Bags containing the bodies of migrants who died after their wooden boat capsized off the coast of Komas, are seen in the town east of the capital Tripoli, Libya July 26, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 26 July 2019

Libya’s coast guard recovers dozens of bodies of migrants

  • A top UN official described Thursday’s shipwreck as “the worst Mediterranean tragedy” so far this year
  • The migrants include nationals from Eretria, Egypt, Sudan and Libya

CAIRO: Libya’s coast guard recovered dozens of bodies of Europe-bound migrants who perished at sea as search operations continued Friday, a day after up to 150 people, including women and children, went missing and were feared drowned after their boats capsized in the Mediterranean Sea.
A top UN official described Thursday’s shipwreck as “the worst Mediterranean tragedy” so far this year.
Also Friday, Libyan authorities transferred dozens of migrants rescued from the disaster to a detention center near Tripoli that was hit by an airstrike earlier this month despite UN objections to such a move, the UN refugee agency said.
The Anti-Illegal Immigration Agency in the capital, Tripoli, said that up to 350 migrants were on board the boats that capsized on Thursday off the coast of the Libyan town of Khoms, around 120 kilometers (75 miles) east of Tripoli.
The migrants include nationals from Eretria, Egypt, Sudan and Libya, the agency said.
Libyan officials said more than 130 migrants have been rescued since Thursday.
At least a dozen were taken to a hospital in Khoms while the rest were transferred to different detention centers, including Tajoura, located near the front lines of the fighting between rival Libyan factions. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief media.
Tajoura was hit by an airstrike on July 3 that killed more than 50 people and raised new concerns over the treatment of migrants in Libya.
Charlie Yaxley, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency, on Thursday objected to transfers of rescued migrants to Tajoura, saying, “this has to stop” and that the detention center should be closed.
“Our joint-call to close Tajoura detention center does not seem to be heard. This is putting intentionally the life of these people at risk,” Vincent Cochetel, the refugee agency’s special envoy for the Central Mediterranean tweeted on Friday.
After the NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, Libya became a major conduit for African migrants and refugees seeking a better life in Europe. Traffickers and armed groups have exploited Libya’s chaos since his overthrow, and have been implicated in widespread abuses of migrants, including torture and abduction for ransom.
Thursday’s shipwreck was “the worst Mediterranean tragedy” so far this year, said .N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.
In January, some 117 died or went missing off Libya’s coast and around 65 people drowned after their boat sank off the coast of Tunisia in May.
At least 2,500 migrants have been detained in centers in and around Tripoli, where forces loyal to commander Khalifa Haftar are battling an array of militias loosely aligned with a UN-recognized government.
Haftar’s offensive — an attempt to seize Tripoli — started in April and has killed more than 1,000 people, mainly combatants but also civilians, the US said earlier this month.
The Tripoli-based government has blamed the Tajoura airstrike on Haftar’s forces, which have denied responsibility and accuse government-linked militias of storing weapons at the facility.
The UN refugee agency says 164 migrants died traveling from Libya to Europe since the start of the year, fewer than in previous years. But the agency says the journey is becoming more dangerous for those who attempt it, with one out of four perishing at sea before reaching Europe.
The UN’s death toll of 154 did not include those reported missing at sea Thursday.


Hundreds of employees fired from Turkey’s Incirlik air base

Updated 25 January 2020

Hundreds of employees fired from Turkey’s Incirlik air base

  • Incirlik Air Base is located in Turkey’s Adana province, near the Syrian border, and it has been a strategic element in ties between Ankara and Washington
  • It has also played a key role for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against Daesh in Syria and Iraq in the past

ANKARA: More than 420 people working at a crucial military air base in southern Turkey have lost their jobs, with some analysts considering it symbolic of decreased cooperation levels with the US and as the Pentagon reconsiders Middle East deployments.
Incirlik Air Base is located in Turkey’s Adana province, near the Syrian border, and it has been a strategic element in ties between Ankara and Washington. It has also played a key role for the US-led Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) against Daesh in Syria and Iraq in the past, as well as hosting US nuclear warheads.
The Colorado-based company Vectrus System Corporation, which provides day-to-day maintenance and operation services at the base, terminated the contracts of almost half of its employees at the base earlier this month.
“The base surged to support OIR,” Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Arab News. “The Turkey-based staff for OIR has mostly left. So, the base is going back to its pre-OIR level of people, and that level requires less contractor support.”
Vectrus did not reply to Arab News’ request for comment about its decision to scale back at the base.
Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said the move was largely symbolic as the canceled contracts related to logistical support rather than the US military mission.
“But obviously, it comes against the background of some tensions in the US-Turkish relationship and previous hints by Ankara that it might reconsider the status of the Incirlik base,” he told Arab News. “The Pentagon is reconsidering its deployment across the Middle East and it might be looking to become less dependent on Incirlik without fully exiting this crucial military air base.”
Incirlik air base has been used in the past as a bargaining chip at times of tension between the two countries.
“Turkey may re-evaluate the status of the Incirlik Air Base if the US imposes sanctions,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said last month in an interview with pro-government channel A-Haber, referring to the potential fallout from Turkey’s decision to buy an air defense system from Russia. 
Washington has threatened to use its Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act to punish Ankara for buying the S-400 system.
Seth J. Frantzman, who is executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis, said reports of the US reducing presence at Incirlik, or challenges to the US presence there, have been growing over the last years.
“Whether these reports relate to changes or are just random is unclear and it is important to note that the large interests of the military and history tend to mean the US does not simply walk away from bases, even if it reduces its role slowly over time,” he told Arab News.
The US has invested heavily in the Jordanian Muwaffaq Salti Air Base to expand its presence there.