- First boats returning migrants and refugees from Greece arrive in Turkey
For the third time in recent weeks, international naval forces operating in the waters of the Arabian Sea seized a shipment of illicit arms March 28, the US Navy informed.
Just over the past month, the joint maritime forces under the Combined Task Force (CTF150) seized two cargoes containing weaponry destined for Somalia.
According to the United States, the contraband originated in Iran and was likely bound for Houthi insurgents in Yemen.
The U.S. Navy Coastal Patrol ship USS Sirocco, operating as part of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command, intercepted and seized the shipment of weapons hidden aboard a small, stateless dhow. The illicit cargo included 1,500 AK-47s, 200 RPG launchers and 21 .50 caliber machine guns.
The dhow and its crew were allowed to depart once the illicit weapons were seized, the navy said.
As of April the UK took over the reins of a Gulf joint maritime force to deter piracy, tackle terrorism, and disrupt smuggling.
The Combined Task Force (CTF150), which covers two million square miles, including the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Indian Ocean and Gulf of Oman, which is a vital artery of world trade, is working to counter attacks or moving personnel, weapons or income generating narcotics, targeting groups such as Daesh.
CTF150 and the Royal Australian Navy are also working to foster ties with East African counterparts on countering narcotics operations and weapons smuggling.
Strengthening of anti-piracy efforts in the region is seen as a much needed move taking into account the increasing number of attacks on commercial ships, especially in Nigerian waters.
The number one concern is the ramping up of the kidnappings of ships’ crew over the last six months as pirates abduct crews for ransom as a means of financing.
Just in March, World Maritime News reported of two attacks in Nigerian waters that resulted in kidnapping of at least nine sailors.
In the meantime, three boats carrying the first migrants to be deported from Greece to Turkeyunder an EU deal with Ankara have made the short journey across the Aegean Sea to the Turkish port of Dikili.
Two boats carrying 131 deportees arrived from Lesbos. A third, carrying 66 people, came from the nearby island of Chios.
Under the deal with the EU, Ankara is supposed take back all migrants and refugees who enter Greece illegally, including Syrians, in return for the EU taking in thousands of Syrian refugees directly from Turkey and rewarding it with more money, early visa-free travel and progress in its EU membership negotiations.
Officials from the EU border agency Frontex said the Lesbos boats were carrying mostly Pakistanis who were already being deported to Turkey before the deal’s creation. As such Monday’s deportations are not a true test of whether the agreement can stop the flow of mainly Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis to Greece.
EU authorities said none of those deported on Monday had requested asylum in Greece and all had left voluntarily. The Greek civil protection ministry said there were two Syrians on board one of the boats from Lesbos, both of whom had asked to be sent back.
The deportations on Lebsos were calmly carried out at dawn, several hours ahead of schedule. Many deportees carried backpacks. None waved to the few photographers gathered on the quay.
Volunteers on Chios alleged that they saw police beating deportees at the quay.
The first boat to moor in Dikili was a chartered Turkish catamaran, the Nazli Jale. Frontex officials inside the boat wore masks. Disembarkation was delayed while officials erected a white tarpaulin on the boat to block the media’s view.
Migrants deported to Turkey will be sent to the area in which they first registered their arrival, or if they did not register, to a detention camp in the north-west of the country.
Several registration tents have been erected on the quay at Dikili, where there is a heavy police presence.
Officials took down a huge banner next to the quay that said the citizens of Dikili opposed the refugees’ arrival . Local opponents of the deal claim 4,000 people have signed a petition of complaint.
“Dikili is very small – just 40,000 citizens,” said Emirhan Çekun, as he asked passersby to sign the petition. “We cannot fit the refugees.”
Elsewhere on the Turkish coast, people were photographed being arrested by coastguards as they attempted to reach Greece, suggesting that some remain undeterred by the deportations.
Greek authorities took many by surprise deploying buses to pick up the deportees from the Moria detention camp on Lesbos at the crack of dawn. While Monday’s operation appeared to have gone smoothly, it remained far from certain when more would be expelled from the island.
“I hate to say this but they were easy cases,” said Eva Moncure, a Frontex spokeswoman. “I really cannot tell you when the next readmission will happen.”
The vast majority of the 2,800 detainees in Moria have applied for asylum, which will inevitably delay the process as their requests are examined and heard. Most are Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans.
“What we know is that 90% of [those in] the Moria camps have applied for asylum,” said Lieutenant Zacharia Tsirigoti, who runs the Greek department for refugees.
Protesters – many volunteers who have been on the island for months – held placards deploring what they described as a “dirty deal”. “EU shame on you! No borders, no nations, stop the dirty deportations,” they chanted on the harbour side.
“This is an appalling deal. What we are hearing from authorities is that no one [on the boats] wanted to apply for asylum but the question is how do we know?” said Steffi De Pous, a Dutch volunteer on the island. “These people risked their lives to get here. Were they given the right information? Did they know their rights?”
Volunteers, she said, had decided to go to Moria with megaphones to “let them know what their rights are so that they are not bullied into this process”.
In Dikili, alongside residents opposing the presence of refugees, several refugee campaigners arrived to express their support for those being deported. Some carried a banner that said: “Stop deportations, open the borders.”
Baran Doğan, a refugee rights campaigner from Izmir, the regional capital, said: “This is the bargaining and bartering of human bodies – it’s treating humans as goods.”
He added that Turkey should not be considered a safe country for refugees since there is a war in the south-east of the country, frequent bomb attacks elsewhere and no labour rights for Syrians. “In reality there are no legal jobs for them,” said Doğan.
Another campaigner, Idil Gökber, from Refugee Volunteers of Izmir, said Europe needed to help Turkey with its refugee burden. “I welcome the refugees,” said Gökber. “But 3-4% of the Turkish population are Syrian refugees so we have to share them [with Europe]. If only Turkey takes these refugees, it’ll be bad for them, and also for us.”
The EU-Turkey deal was struck in March as Europe wrestled with the continent’s worst migration crisis since the second world war, with more than 1 million people arriving last year.
Under the agreement, designed to halt new arrivals along the most popular route through Turkey, all “irregular migrants” arriving since 20 March face being sent back. Each case is meant to be examined individually. For every Syrian refugee returned, another Syrian refugee will be resettled from Turkey to the EU, with numbers capped at 72,000.
World Maritime News with additional report from Guardian