Four days in custody and many open questions.

A crew member of the Regensburg refugee aid project “Sea-Eye e.V.” talks about his enforced stay in Libya.

By Dagmar Unrecht.

Regensburg. It is a story with many contradictions: two members of the Regensburg refugee rescue project Sea-Eye e.V. were released a week ago from custody by the Libyan coast guard. Their enforced stay in the North African country lasted almost four days. “The information situation was difficult and contradictory,” says Michael Buschheuer, Regensburg entrepreneur and chairman of Sea-Eye e.V. On 19 September, one of the two crew members, lawyer Dittmar Kania, spoke about his experiences during his days with the Libyan coast guard.

It was a normal day at first: On 19 September 2016, the speedboat “Speedy” of the Regensburg refugee aid project Sea-Eye was cruising the Libyan coast searching for refugees. “We certainly did not violate the 12-mile-zone off the coast,” Kania underlines. The 68-year-old lawyer from Hamburg is sitting in the Regensburg ‘Kolping House’, recalling what he experienced a week earlier. He and a second aid worker were cruising on the speedboat when suddenly they were being followed by a black rubber speedboat. Worried about a pirate attack, the Speedy accelerated, but the other boat caught up with them. “On the boat there were men with machine guns. They belonged to the Libyan coast guard,” Kania reports. The men spoke Arabic and hardly any English, and communication was difficult.

The two Sea-Eye workers were taken to the coast. The accusation: they had entered Libyan territory, had not stopped in spite of warning shots by the Libyan coast guard, but had attempted to flee. But Kania stresses that they “did not hear any shots.” He recalls that the  interrogation was very chaotic. Their mobile phones and passports were taken away. “But we were treated very politely and fairly the entire time,” the lawyer reports. “I was not afraid.” But still the situation seemed very absurd to him: “They asked us for example why we were not flying the Libyan flag on our boat.”

The two arrested Sea-Eye workers were finally taken to the private house of the Libyan coast guard commander. They received food, tea and Pepsi Cola and were allowed to spend the night in the house – side by side with the Libyan commander. “We were not locked in, but where could we have gone?” the man from Hamburg describes the tricky situation. They were allowed to speak with an employee of the German Embassy in Libya, via the commander’s mobile phone. It was only four days later that things got moving: The two aid project workers were handed over to the German Navy ship “Werra”, which took them to the rescue project’s main boat.

While the four days passed relatively peacefully for the two arrested men, in spite of the circumstances, there was a lot of nervousness in Regensburg. “We did not know whether our guys were ok,” Sea-Eye founder Michael Buschheuer said on Monday in Regensburg. There were many rumours and different news from Libya. “From the German point of view the situation was looking a lot more dramatic than it actually was,” Buschheuer said. He praised the efforts of the German Foreign Office and the German Embassy in Tripolis. They acted in an “exemplary manner” and “pulled out all the stops” to clear up the situation quickly. Buschheuer was also grateful for the efforts of the German Navy.

The speedboat Speedy remains in Libyan custody. “The financial loss of about € 110,000 is one thing, but it is much worse that we cannot use the boat to rescue people,” Buschheuer says. The perilous situation for refugees continues unchanged. He is hoping to be able to use diplomatic channels to convince the Libyans to return the speedboat. “We have no chance before a Libyan court,” Buschheuer says. There is no functioning government in the North African country; the entire region is unstable. Whether he will ever recover the boat? The question remains unanswered. But the man from Regensburg wants to continue. And collaborator Dittmar Kania remains committed as well. “The Libyan coast guard know us now. I don’t think we will get in trouble another time.”

Source: Mittelbayerische Zeitung, Regensburg, Germany

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