A Turkish Cypriot court on Thursday (27 July) extended the detention of 10 people including the captain of a boat hired by far-right activists to prevent would-be migrants from reaching Europe, local media reported.
The captain and his second-in-command were formally arrested by the court, Kibris Postasi reported, together with the vessel’s owner and seven crew members.
The court ordered them detained for 24 hours over accusations of “using and publishing false documents”, the newspaper said, without giving further details on the nature of the documents.
The arrests came after Turkish Cypriot authorities stopped the ship at the port of Famagusta on Tuesday (25 July).
The “Defend Europe” scheme was announced by anti-immigration campaigners from France, Italy and Germany after they crowd-funded the €76,000 needed to hire the vessel.
The far-right group, which calls itself “Generation Identity” (GI), said the 40-metre boat left Djibouti in early July despite heavy criticism from NGOs.
The aim of the GI initiative is to ensure would-be migrants are returned to Libya.
Fifteen of the 20 people on the boat were taken to Ercan airport while the other five sought asylum, Kibris Postasi said, without giving further details.
Some of the crew were Sri Lankans undergoing training but had left the ship, GI said.
The Guardian reported that the crew were guilty of people-smuggling. But local human rights activist Faika Pasa explained that “human trafficking is not a crime here so charges have been pressed against them on the grounds of the documents that were produced by the crew.”
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 4 July. Nearly 2,250 people have died in 2017 attempting the sea crossing from North Africa, it said.