Turkish Cypriots release anti-migrant Europe boat crew

Turkish Cypriot authorities on Thursday released the captain and crew of a boat hired by far-right activists to prevent would-be migrants from reaching Europe, local media reported.

Kibris Postasi reported earlier that the captain, his second-in-command, the vessel’s owner and seven crew members had been detained over accusations of “using and publishing false documents”.

The arrests came after Turkish Cypriot authorities stopped their vessel, the “C-Star”, at the port of Famagusta on Tuesday.

But BRT television said the crew were released for lack of evidence and their boat would be allowed to set out to sea later on Thursday.

The C-Star was expected to set off across the Mediterranean to Tunisia, Kibris Postasi said.

The “Defend Europe” scheme was announced by anti-immigration campaigners from France, Italy and Germany after they crowd-funded the 76,000 euros ($87,000) needed to hire the vessel.

The far-right group, which calls itself “Generation Identity” (GI), said the 40-metre (130-foot) boat left Djibouti in early July despite heavy criticism from NGOs.

GI says the aim of its initiative is to ensure would-be migrants be returned to Libya rather than be rescued and transported to Europe.

Fifteen of the 20 people on the boat, who said they were students, were taken to the north’s Ercan airport, while the other five sought asylum, Kibris Postasi said.

Some of the crew were Sri Lankans undergoing training but had left the ship, GI said.

GI said the vessel previously ran into trouble when it was stuck for a week in the Suez Canal after “left-wing movements and NGOs accused them of transporting arms and mercenaries in a bid to prevent their mission”.

It said Egyptian authorities had inspected the boat and not found any arms.

More than 100,000 migrants have crossed the dangerous Mediterranean route to Europe this year, the United Nations said on July 4.

Nearly 2,250 people have died in 2017 attempting the sea crossing from North Africa, it said.

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