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Thursday, February 11, 2016

NATO ships deployed in Aegean Sea to prevent migrant movement

For centuries, sea has enamoured man and conquering high seas has been eternally challenging. In modern day, there are cargo ships [dry cargo / bulk cargo / containers and liquid cargo]; passenger cruises; science experiment ships; car carriers, factory ships and more ….they are used in peace and war ~ and uses such as this one, the subject matter of this post.

For 100 years, waves of displaced and frightened people have broken over Europe again and again and the images have been strikingly similar each time. In August 1914,  cinema audiences across Britain, many of whom had probably thought this kind of thing would never happen in Europe again, watched jerky black and white newsreel pictures of a million or more Belgians trudging along the roads to the Netherlands or France. Of late, the news is dominated by pictures of vast crowds shuffling through the borders of yet another European country, being treated with brutality in some places and given a reluctant welcome in others…. .. .and for Europe,  2015 has unquestionably been the year of the migrant.

The Aegean Sea  is an elongated embayment of the Mediterranean Sea located between the Greek and the mainlands of Greece and Turkey.

In recent times, more  migrants are trying to reach the EU via Turkey and Greece than taking the perilous sea crossing from Libya, the EU's border management agency says. So far this year around 46,000 migrants have used the eastern Mediterranean route, compared with 43,000 crossing between Libya and Italy, Frontex says. This trend began well before EU leaders started discussing ways to disrupt smuggling networks based in Libya.  NY Times reports that a  number of factors may be behind this shift in migration patterns.

Chaos and violence in Libya are almost certainly the main contributor, with horrific stories of the abuse of migrants filtering back to host countries.  Now to stop them, it is reported in BBC NYT and more quoting the military alliance’s secretary general state that NATO will deploy ships to the Aegean Sea in an attempt to stop smugglers moving migrants from Turkey to Greece, The ships will focus on monitoring the waterways and on providing intelligence to the European Union, which is taking the lead in trying to stem the flow of migrants, according to NATO officials.

NATO will also enhance its surveillance of the Turkey-Syria border to monitor more closely the movement of migrants and the activities of smugglers, the secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said. “This is not about stopping or pushing back refugee boats,” he said. The operation puts the military alliance in the position of conducting what amounts to a law enforcement operation in the middle of a humanitarian and diplomatic crisis. Even if the military move ends up being largely symbolic, it represents the heightened concern over a crisis that has also become a geopolitical conundrum.

Gen. Philip M. Breedlove of the United States Air Force, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, has ordered ships to the Aegean, Mr. Stoltenberg said. The vessels are from Canada, Germany, Greece and Turkey, officials said. General Breedlove told reporters that many details of the operation were still being worked out, including how to deal with refugee boats that are intercepted and the rules of engagement. It is not clear, for example, how NATO will distinguish between legitimate refugees and the smugglers whom migrants have paid to facilitate their escape.

Three members of the alliance — Germany, Greece and Turkey — had asked NATO for help with the sea patrols, as they struggle to deal with the number of refugees who have fled violence in Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Syria and other conflict-torn countries. About 3,800 people died last year while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach the European Union. An additional 409 have died this year under the same circumstances, according to the International Organization for Migration.

The United States supported the move. Also on Thursday, the German government agreed to permit refugees who had entered the country as unaccompanied minors to bring over their families, in cases of particular hardship. The agreement allows family reunifications only when “urgent humanitarian reasons” justify the granting of asylum to the children’s parents. The question of when reunifications would be permitted has been a point of dispute between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democratic Party, with which she governs in coalition. Germany, which received nearly 1.1 million applications for asylum last year, has been trying to stem the flow.

In other developments, a trial opened in the Aegean resort town of Bodrum, Turkey, of two Syrians, Muwafaka Alabash and Asem Alfrhad. They are accused of causing the drownings of a 3-year-old Syrian, Alan Kurdi, and of four other migrants, including the boy’s mother and brother, in September. Images of the boy’s lifeless body lying face down on a beach in Bodrum helped focus world attention on the crisis. The two men each face up to 35 years in prison if convicted of charges of human smuggling and causing the deaths of five people “through deliberate negligence.”

So, lot happening mid-sea…

Regards – S. Sampathkumar
11th Feb 2016


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