Tag Archives: Linosa

Mussie Zerai – Eritrean Catholic priest assisting refugees in Libya and at sea

Here is a short AFP article about Father Mussie Zerai who is in frequent contact by satellite phone with African refugees in Libya and with those who are in the process of leaving Libya:  “A few steps away from St Peter’s Basilica, an Eritrean Catholic priest is on the phone with boats in the middle of the Mediterranean filled with African refugees fleeing Libya.  Mussie Zerai receives calls from satellite phones on the boats and co-ordinates the arrival of hundreds of Eritreans, Ethiopians and Somalis with Italy’s coast guard and the NATO warships imposing a naval embargo on Libya….”

Click here for article.

Father Zerai’s organisation’s blog: habeshia.blogspot.com/

UPDATE:  If you have information about a family member or friend who may be on a boat or if you are seeking information, please consider contacting the Agenzia Habeshia per la Cooperazione allo Sviluppo in Italy at this email address: agenzia_habeshia@yahoo.it .

UPDATE: Click here for 19 April 2011 BBC article.


Filed under Eritrea, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, News

NATO Policy Regarding Migrant Boats Leaving Libya

I posed several questions to NATO Maritime Command Naples asking what NATO’s policy is in regard to encounters between NATO ships and migrant boats leaving Libya.  NATO Maritime Command Naples is responsible for enforcing the maritime embargo of Libya known as Operation Unified Protector.  I also asked for more information about the encounter on 25-26 March between the Canadian navy ship, HMCS Charlottetown, and what was probably the first recent migrant boat from Libya.  This particular migrant boat was subsequently taken to Linosa by the Italian Coast Guard.

Today’s response from NATO’s public affairs office is fairly straightforward and states that NATO ships will respond to vessels or persons in distress.  The response suggests that NATO ships will otherwise not interfere with the passage of migrant boats unless a boat is suspected of carrying arms or mercenaries.  Presumably NATO would also seek to stop and board migrant vessels suspected of carrying any persons of particular interest to NATO, e.g. Libyan officials.

Here are my questions and the responses from the Public Affairs Office at NATO Maritime Command Naples:

Q:  Does Operation Unified Protector have plans or procedures in place regarding what to do in the situation where a NATO vessel encounters a boat or inflatable that is carrying irregular migrants or asylum seekers out of Libya and attempting to reach another country, e.g. Italy or Malta?

NATO:  Operation Unified Protector is part of the broad international effort to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas under threat of attack. The maritime portion of the operation foresees NATO warships and aircraft patrolling the approaches to Libyan territorial waters to reduce the flow of arms, related material and mercenaries to Libya as called for in UN Security Council Resolution 1973. Issues of migration or asylum seekers are not within the mandate of this specific NATO operation.

Q:  If there are plans or procedures for encounters with migrant boats, what do they provide for?

NATO:  A master of a ship at sea which is in a position to be able to provide assistance on receiving information from any source that persons are in distress at sea, is bound to proceed with all speed to their assistance, if possible informing them or the search and rescue service that the ship is doing so. This obligation to provide assistance applies regardless of the nationality or status of such persons or the circumstances in which they are found.

Q:  Additionally, can you provide details regarding what HMCS Charlottetown did on/about 26 March when it encountered a migrant boat carrying approximately 350 African migrants from Libya?  Did HMCS Charlottetown request assistance in connection with this encounter from the Italian Coast Guard or Navy or from Frontex?  What assistance, if any, was provided to the migrant boat?

NATO:  On 25 and 26 of March 2011, NATO ships patrolling in International Waters attended a boat to ensure there was not a case of Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). Assistance was offered in the form of technical expertise and supplies. NATO ships monitored the situation constantly throughout the stated period. For action taken by Italy with regard to this event we recommend you contact the appropriate authorities.

Q:  Does NATO anticipate that there may at some point be large numbers of non-Libyans or Libyans attempting to leave Libya by sea?

NATO:  We do not feel that we can speculate on this matter.

Click here for link to NATO Maritime Command Naples and here for link to Operation Unified Protector.


Filed under Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News

Boat With 350 African Migrants from Libya Receives Assistance from Canadian Navy Ship

A boat carrying approximately 350 African migrants or asylum seekers from Libya has been intercepted and is being diverted to the Italian island of Linosa between Malta and Lampedusa.  There have been reports over the past several days that the migrant boat was at sea.  A Canadian navy ship, probably the frigate HMCS Charlottetown, first intercepted and boarded the migrant boat to determine whether the passengers required immediate rescue or not and to provide a pump.  The migrant boat was allowed to proceed.  An Italian navy helicopter later rescued a woman who gave birth on the boat.  The woman, the newborn baby, the father, and a second pregnant woman were removed from the migrant boat and taken to hospitals on Lampedusa and Sicily.  The Italian navy said that the migrant boat will be taken to Linosa rather than Lampedusa.  UNHCR spokeswoman Laura Boldrini is quoted by AFP as saying that “[t]his is the first boat coming from Libya with people fleeing the military escalation, the vendettas and the retaliation attacks and that “the people on board the boat required ‘international protection’”.  AFP also reported that “Mussie Zerai, an Eritrean Catholic priest in Italy who has been in direct contact with the vessel via a satellite phone, said conditions on the boat were extremely difficult with around 10 children and 20 women on board.  He said the people were mostly Eritreans, Ethiopians and Somalians.”  Zerai also “said four or five other boats carrying African migrants had … left Libyan shores carrying around 1,000 people.”

Click here (EN) and here (IT) for articles.


Filed under Eritrea, Ethiopia, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mediterranean, News, Somalia, UNHCR

Migrant Arrivals in Lampedusa Resume; 10 Boats–500 Migrants Arrive During 24 Hour Period

After a week or so without any migrants arriving in Lampedusa, ten boats carrying approximately 500 persons arrived in Lampedusa and nearby Italian islands over a 24 hour period 1st-2nd March.  Improved weather conditions are the most likely explanation for the new boat arrivals.  Highlighting the difficulties of maritime surveillance, one of the migrant boats with 22 migrants landed on the island of Linosa, roughly halfway between Lampedusa and Malta, without being detected.

According to Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, to date 2,000 Tunisians have applied for some form of protection; less than 400 asylum requests have been made.  According to Maroni, most of the Tunisians have expressed a desire to go to other European countries, generally France or Germany.

Maroni said that Italy’s agreement with Tunisia limits repatriation of Tunisians to four persons per day and Italy is therefore currently negotiating with Tunisia to increase the number of persons who may be repatriated.  If the daily limit is not changed it would take years to return the thousands who have arrived in Italy.

Click here (IT), here (IT), and here (EN) for articles.

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Filed under Frontex, Italy, Libya, Mediterranean, News, Tunisia