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NGO wins legal battle to restart human rights monitoring mission in the Aegean

RIGHTS campaigners who monitor Greece and Turkey’s handling of the migrant crisis in the Aegean Sea won a court case against a German government ruling yesterday that was preventing their ship from leaving the Greek island of Lesbos.

On April 23 the German Transport Ministry gave the Mare Liberum, a 69ft yacht operated by a charity of the same name, an order of suspension requiring the vessel to fulfil the same safety checks as freighter ships.

The Berlin-based non-profit organisation said it appealed against the ministry’s order because Mare Liberum’s classification as a commercial vessel was imposing equipment requirements that it could not fulfil.

The Administrative Court of Hamburg ruled yesterday that the government’s detention order was illegal.

Spokesman for Mare Liberum Hanno Bruchmann said the ministry was determined to sabotage the campaigners’ work.

“The Ministry of Transport, led by the right-wing [Christian Social Union] politician Andreas Scheuer, has no legal basis to prevent non-profit associations from civil sea rescue and human rights monitoring.

“The attack is directed against all organisations active on the Mediterranean. The crew of the Mare Liberum can now prepare for departure again. But we are still facing this threatening situation — and so are all the organisations operating in the Mediterranean.

“As long as government agencies do not fulfil their tasks, private sea rescue and human rights monitoring must be supported instead of sabotaged.”

The campaigners say that at least six people drowned in the strait between Turkey and Greece while the vessel was barred from leaving Lesbos.

“There was at least one illegal push-back in the Aegean Sea, during which a refugee boat that had already been in European waters was forced back to Turkey,” the charity said.

“The absence of independent observers turned this area into a black hole, from which less and less information is reaching the public.”

The ruling comes at a time when European Union countries are increasingly trying to prevent NGO rescue ships from operating in the Mediterranean and continue to fund arms-length operations such as the Libyan coastguard, which intercepts vessels and returns refugees and migrants to camps in the war-ravaged country.

Sea-Watch International, which last won a similar legal battle against the Dutch government last week, released video footage on Monday of a man making a desperate attempt to swim away from the Libyan coastguard towards a commercial freighter ship.

On the same day, Italy’s far-right Interior Ministry announced plans to fine NGO ships €5,500 (£4,790) for each rescued refugee they disembark on Italian shores.

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