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A TURKISH naval ship aided the return of refugees to war-torn Libya today after pulling around 30 people from a dinghy in the central Mediterranean Sea in the morning.
Turkey’s National Defence Department tweeted a video today of one of its ships, the Gaziantep, coming across a refugee dinghy, its crew boarding the visibly-dazed survivors onto their vessel before returning them to a smaller military ship that it said was the Libyan Coastguard.
German refugee-rescue charity Sea Watch said that its plane, Moonbird, documented the capture.
“Turkey, a signatory to the [European Convention on Human Rights] and a member of Nato, has thus become complicit in yet another serious violation of human rights,” Sea Watch tweeted.
The UN refugee agency’s (UNHCR) special envoy for the central Mediterranean, Vincent Cochetel, said that the rescue was appreciated, but “all returns to Libya from international waters are contrary to international maritime and human-rights law.
“It applies to all countries and all military forces present in the Mediterranean. Returns to Libya [equal] risks of torture, arbitrary detention, slavery [and] risks to life.”
The Gaziantep was taking part in a Nato operation called Sea Guardian at the time of the rescue.
One of the many tasks of the Mediterranean-based Nato mission, its website states, is “providing support … to [the European Union’s anti-human-trafficking military mission] Operation Sophia.”
In April last year, the EU pulled all of Operation Sophia’s ships from the Mediterranean under pressure from Italy’s then far-right coalition government, leaving a small collection of NGO ships as the only actors carrying out refugee rescues off the Libyan coast.
“Turkey shows that it does not believe in human rights,” Axel Steier, co-founder of the German refugee rescue charity Mission Lifeline, told the Star today.
“We are seeing people with Turkey’s consent being kidnapped to Libya.
“The truth is that Nato members can do what they want. All other states are watching and there are no consequences.
“The system is simply completely degenerate and refugees, especially, suffer extremely.”
Meanwhile, the Open Arms, a ship run by the Spanish NGO of the same name and the only rescue ship off the Libyan coast, found another group stranded in the Mediterranean this afternoon.
The ship was alerted by the activist network Alarm Phone of the boat in distress this morning.
“[We] rescued a small vessel in danger with 45 people, in poor physical condition,” Open Arms wrote above a tweeted video of the rescue.
“A five-year-old boy, injured. We now have 282 people on board and medical cases that may require evacuation.”
Alarm Phone later praised the actions of the civil refugee-rescue fleet.
“Moments ago, Open Arms carried out a successful rescue operation! 45 people are now safely on board.
“Moonbird was once more crucial to monitor the distress situation from above! Civil fleet to the rescue once again, with phones, aircraft and ships!”
This morning, the NGO ship operated by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the Ocean Viking, disembarked over 400 refugees in Taranto, Italy.
SOS Mediterranee’s Director of Operations Frederic Penard told the Star: “The Ocean Viking conducted five rescues in less than 72 hours.
“We had to cover hundreds of nautical miles to search for multiple boats in distress while crews were already taking care of hundreds of people on deck.
“All these rescues occurred at night, in very challenging conditions.
“While Europe was sleeping, the boats we found were overcrowded, near capsizing or breaking after having spent hours at sea with no assistance.
“Without civil rescue ships, the area of the Mediterranean Sea would mostly be left unattended.
“On Sunday, the Libyan coastguards themselves admitted that they were not in a capacity to conduct operations that day.
“The situation in the central Mediterranean this past weekend has shown again a dire need of search-and-rescue capacity and co-ordination to save lives.”
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