Nato to provide satellite images to inquiry into boat people tragedy

Dutch MP’s inquiry into deaths of asylum seekers in March not succoured by Nato assets demands more information.

Fr Moses Zerai, who was in Malta last summer, denounced that the Nato assets had failed to save boat people in the Mediterranean. (Photo: Ray Attard/Mediatoday).
Fr Moses Zerai, who was in Malta last summer, denounced that the Nato assets had failed to save boat people in the Mediterranean. (Photo: Ray Attard/Mediatoday).

NATO officials have reportedly agreed to provide additional information into the deaths of asylum seekers in the Mediterranean, as part of an investigation by Dutch MP Tineke Strike for the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly committee on migration.

The additional information may include satellite imagery.

Strik's report will focus on an incident reported in March this year, during which 63 boat people escaping from Libya died after their appeals for rescue had allegedly been ignored.

"The testimonies of survivors of this incident are coherent, but we have to continue to collect more data and information on who was when and where in the area and we now expect Nato and the EU to provide us with satellite imagery and other relevant information."

An Eritrean priest who denounced to the world that the boat carrying African migrants in the Mediterranean was ignored by NATO military assets, told the Strik inquiry back in September that a military helicopter dropped water to the migrants but then vanished and that a naval vessel simply ignored them.

"I spoke to the migrants, I alerted the authorities. People were on that boat waving babies in the air when the naval vessel passed, and yet they still died of hunger and thirst," Fr Moses Zerai, an Eritrean priest based in Rome, said.

Zerai and three of only nine survivors of the boat trip were interviewed in Rome by the Dutch MP Tineke Strik, who is heading a Council of Europe inquiry into claims.

NATO denied the report claiming its military units failed to save dozens of migrants fleeing north Africa by boat which had been adrift in the ocean for 16 days, leading to the deaths of 61 people. British newspaper The Guardian said despite a distress call from the boat to the Italian coastguard and a military helicopter and NATO warship, no rescue effort was attempted.

It said the boat, carrying 72 people including women, children and political refugees, ran into trouble after leaving Tripoli, the Libyan capital, for the Italian island of Lampedusa on March 25. By the time the vessel drifted ashore at Zlitan, Libya, on 10 April, all but 11 passengers were dead, and another died after being imprisoned by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi, the country's leader.

Strik said that 1,971 boatpeople perished in the Mediterranean Sea while trying to reach European soil from North Africa.

"The year 2011 sets a sad record as the deadliest year for boatpeople," Strik said yesterday at the end of a hearing on this issue, organised by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Migration Committee.

"Never before the Mediterranean Sea has been as closely monitored as this year because of the war in Libya and still more boat people than ever perished or disappeared," she said.

"Is there a common understanding of a 'distress situation'? Is it clear which legal framework is applicable and by whom? Do all ships, even warships, have to proceed with rescue operations even if they are situated beyond established search and rescue zones? Where does legal responsibility start and where does political responsibility end? These are some of the issues we are currently trying to clarify," she said.

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Why doesn't Nato send ships these boat people who are in distress and take the people to mainland Europe - especially to the northern countries where the countries are much richer.