Was anti-refugee ship actually carrying refugees into Europe?

The credibility of the Defend Europe mission was in tatters today, as it emerged that the ship chartered by far-right extremists to stop refugees entering Europe was allegedly carrying refugees aiming to reach Italy.

The owner and senior officers of the C-Star have been held in northern Cyprus over alleged “people smuggling”, after 21 south Asian men were found on board.

Details of the arrests emerged via the Turkish-Cypriot paper Kibris Postasi. The newspaper (and HOPE not hate) reported that the crew of the C-Star had been taken off the vessel at the port of Famagusta yesterday; further updates emerged today.

Faika Pasa, a local human rights activist, told The Guardian newspaper that nine crew members, including the captain and a German described as the “second captain”, had been arrested and remanded in custody.

It is believed that noted Identiarian activist Alexander Schleyer was on the crew list.

Handcuffs

Police in Famagusta said the crew and ship’s Swedish owner, Sven Tomas Egerstrom, a convicted fraudster based in Cardiff with a business focusing on armed maritime security, had appeared in court on Thursday, accused of preparing and circulating false documents.

Today he was seen outside police offices in handcuffs.

C-Star arrests Northern Cyprus ©Yannis Youlountas

When HOPE not hate contacted the local police, we were told:

“The crew members, the captain and the owner of the ship were arrested and they appeared before court today and the court decided on detention for one day.” 

The police also confirmed they were aware of our research on Defend Europe and we have since sent further information to help with their investigations.

Refugees

At least 20 Sri Lankan refugees were aboard the C-Star as the vessel approached Famagusta, it is alleged.

“Some said they had paid €10,000 to smuggling rings to get on the ship and be taken to Italy,” Faika Pasa said. “Five have since requested asylum. The other fifteen have now flown back to Sri Lanka.” 

Defend Europe has (laughingly) attempted to argue that as the “20 apprentice sailors” waited at the airport, NGOs “offered them to stay in Europe and apply for asylum in exchange for promises and money”. This excuse looks rather thin.

Authorities in Famagusta have, so far, refused to comment further on the vessel’s seizure. A spokesman with the marine police department in the Republic of Cyprus said that the ship’s crew had deactivated its antenna and automatic identification system (AIS).

Disasters

This dramatic turn of events marks the end of a dreadful week for Defend Europe, which is a mission run by the Generation Identity network of far-right extremists, who want to prevent humanitarian ships bringing refugees back into Europe from the Mediterranean.

©Yannis Youlountas

The mayor of the Sicilian port used for most NGO embarkations, Catania, last week urged the city’s port authorities to deny the ship docking rights. The C-Star was previously briefly detained at Port Suez and several leading activists have lost access to online payment platforms, as a result of lobbying by HOPE not hate.

As of writing, the ship is still in Cyprus, despite Defend Europe’s claims that it would leave today. It appears that, despite its hype, crowdfunding attempts and foolhardy bravado that risks threatening lives at sea, the Defend Europe mission hangs in the balance.

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