UK

Defend Europe's Mission Suspended After Libyan Coast Guard Tells Them Where To Go

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21/08/2017 15:13 BST | Updated 21/08/2017 21:50 BST
ROMAIN LAFABREGUE via Getty Images
Jean David Cattin (L) and Damiano Gioranna, members of anti-migrant group 'Defend Europe', hold a press conference in Lyon, France.

LATEST: Defend Europe just released a video of the encounter detailed below but omitted the part where they’re told to leave Libyan waters.

On Saturday Defend Europe held a press conference in France to announce the temporary suspension of their “successful” mission, an event slightly marred by the absence of their ship’s crew who were (and still are) stranded off the coast of Malta.

Undeterred, spokesmen for the group spent 20 minutes detailing their accomplishments, building upon what appeared to be a productive final week in which they made “new friends” in the form of the Libyan Coast Guard. 

HuffPostUK asked Defend Europe shortly after these tweets were posted why, according to satellite tracking, were they also heading away from the Coast Guard at full speed.

The group insisted they were just “following the Golfo Azzuro”.

But audio of the call, obtained by Familia Cristiana and passed to HuffPost UK, paints a different picture and possibly explains the real reason the mission was suspended - their “cooperation” was rejected and they were ordered to leave the search and rescue zone in which they were hoping to operate.

 

LIBYAN COAST GUARD - C-Star this is the Libyan Coast Guard, I hear you loud and clear, over.

DEFEND EUROPE - Coast Guard, thank you for your cooperation. We are on the way to follow your order and if you’d like to offer a working channel you can report anything from the European NGOs acting against your orders.

You have our full assistance and our full support, thanks.

LIBYAN COAST GUARD - Thank you for your cooperation and I understand your job, we are facing the same problem and the same challenge.

You cannot be here in our waters - I am following Libyan authorities’ orders.

Just keep it like that, thank you very much.

This sheds an awkward new light on a statement the group made shortly after the incident in which they attempted to portray the Libyan Coast Guard’s encounter with the Golfo Azzuro as some sort of joint operation.

Since beginning the mission in July, Defend Europe has consistently found itself outpaced by events on the ground whilst simultaneously attempting to take credit for them.

This continued in Saturday’s press conference.

CLAIM:

“I want to cite the [Austrian] Minister of the Interior who said the presence of the C-Star urges the closing of the Mediterranean route. So actually that is a huge success.”

REALITY:

Not quite - a press release from the Austrian Interior Ministry actually said:

“Political extremists attacking NGOs in the Mediterranean are a clear sign of radicalisation tendencies in Europe. We must clearly defy this development and at European level ensure that the situation on the Mediterranean is normalised and the escape route is closed.”

CLAIM:

“Welcome to this international press conference that closes the mission, Defend Europe, which has been very successful.

“The decision by the Libyan authorities to close their territorial waters... resulted in the stopping of most of the activities of the NGOs.

“With the main goal thus having been achieved, it was decided to temporarily suspend the mission of Defend Europe.”

REALITY: 

Over the course of August, three NGOs have suspended operations assisting in the rescue of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Libya, coinciding with a 76% drop in the number of people making the perilous journey in the first 10 days of August.

But as HuffPost UK noted last week, neither of these were attributable to Defend Europe but were in fact the result of actions by the Italian Navy, the Libyan Coast Guard, the Italian Government, conflicts in Libyan cities and the weather.

CLAIM:

“The mission, Defend Europe, has drawn international attention to this issue. It upset the plans of the NGOs acting in secret and obliges the different states to react.”

REALITY:

NGOs have not been acting “in secret” and have allowed the press on board their ships for years.