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NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — A ship chartered by a group that campaigns against migrant arrivals in Europe is staying at sea off Cyprus amid warnings of threats to the vessel from far-leftists, a spokesman for the anti-migrant organization said Friday.
Thorsten Schmidt, spokesman for the group Defend Europe, told the Associated Press that authorities from "more than one country" had warned that the security of the C Star is at risk and it should make frequent course changes. He didn't give any details of threats to the ship, which was keeping about 40 miles off the island's southern coast.
The vessel was thrust into the news Thursday when Turkish Cypriot officials in the island's breakaway north order the C Star and its nine-man crew to leave the port of Famagusta after briefly detaining them on suspicion of forging documents for 20 Tamils found on board.
Schmidt repeated his group's denial that it was trying to smuggle in migrants, saying "radical leftist" groups are mounting a smear campaign against Defend Europe with what he called false accusations of weapons smuggling and people trafficking.
Defend Europe officials said the Tamils were apprentice sailors who had just wrapped up training and wanted to catch a flight back to Sri Lanka.
But when the Tamils were taken to the airport, five asked for asylum and claimed they each had paid a trafficker in Sri Lanka as much as $16,000 to be taken to Rome, said Faika Deniz Pasha of the Refugee Rights Association, which has strongly criticized Defend Europe's anti-immigrant views.
On its Website, Defend Europe says an "invasion" by people entering illegally from Africa and elsewhere is "changing the face" of Europe, diminishing its safety while posing the risk that Europeans "will become a minority in our own European homelands."
Schmidt claimed activists from non-governmental groups at the north Cyprus airport coaxed the Tamils into applying for asylum with offers of help. Pasha said migrant advocates offered only their contact details and it was the Tamils themselves who called to ask for asylum.
Schmidt said the ship's Cyprus detention had delayed its mission for Defend Europe by a few days and it would head to Italy as soon as possible. He said the C Star would go to waters off Libya to "destroy" empty rubber boats that he claimed are being used by pro-migrant groups to ferry people to Europe in collusion with people traffickers.
Schmidt said the Tamil matter didn't involve Defend Europe, but was instead an issue for the owner of the C Star who made his own arrangements with the Tamils. Turkish Cypriot authorities transferred the ship owner to the island's internationally recognized south.
The ship originally picked up the Tamils from the East Africa nation of Djibouti. Schmidt said they were supposed to return to Sri Lanka from Egypt, but missed their flights when the C Star arrived there. Egyptian authorities told the ship to leave, so it headed to north Cyprus where it could also get cheaper fuel, he said.
Meanwhile, 10 Tamils who took flights from north Cyprus seeking to return to Sri Lanka were sent back to the Mediterranean island after being stranded at Doha airport where they were supposed to board connecting flights, Pasha said. She said authorities weren't allowing the men to leave the airport and they would be flown back to Doha as soon as possible. The 10 told aid group lawyers their connecting flights in Doha had been cancelled, she said.