Amnesty International in a report on Tuesday accused the Maltese government of human rights abuse, as it resorts to dangerous and illegal measures in dealing with the arrivals of refugees and migrants on its shores.
In a report titled “Waves of impunity: Malta’s human rights violations Europe’s responsibilities in the Central Mediterranean”, Amnesty International revealed how Malta is exposing countless people to appalling suffering and risking lives.
As Amnesty is launching this new report, despair is growing aboard the Maersk Etienne, which has been denied a port to disembark for over a month, after rescuing 27 people on a request from Maltese authorities.
The Maltese government’s change in approach to arrivals in the central Mediterranean in 2020 has seen them take unlawful, and sometimes unprecedented, measures to avoid assisting refugees and migrants.
This escalation of tactics included arranging unlawful pushbacks to Libya, diverting boats towards Italy rather than rescuing people in distress, illegally detaining hundreds of people on ill-equipped ferries off Malta’s waters, and signing a new agreement with Libya to prevent people from reaching Malta.
“Malta is stooping to ever more despicable and illegal tactics to shirk their responsibilities to people in need,” said Elisa De Pieri, Regional Researcher at Amnesty International.
Some of the actions taken by the Maltese authorities may have involved criminal acts being committed, resulting in avoidable deaths, prolonged arbitrary detention, and illegal returns to war-torn Libya.
The authorities also used the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to declare that Malta was not a safe place to disembark – to discourage people from seeking safety and a decent life in Europe.
The abusive practices by Malta are part of a wider effort by EU member states and institutions of allowing Libya to intercept refugees and migrants at sea before they reach Europe.
From the beginning of January to August 27, 2020 7,256 people were ‘pulled back’ to Libya by the EU-supported Libyan Coast Guard, which was often alerted of the presence of boats at sea by airplanes engaged in Frontex and other EU operations.
The case of the “Easter Monday pushback” illustrates the desperate lengths to which the Maltese authorities are willing to go to prevent people arriving on their shores.
On April 15, 2020, a group of 51 people, including seven women and three children, were unlawfully returned to Tripoli after being rescued in Malta’s search and rescue region by the commercial fishing boat Dar Al Salam 1.
The boat, which had been contracted by the Maltese government, took those on-board back to Libya and handed them over to the Libyan authorities, exposing refugees and migrants – who had just survived a deadly shipwreck – to further risks to their life.
Five people were dead when the vessel reached Libya, and the survivors reported that a further seven people were missing at sea. Survivors reported that those on board were not given medical assistance.
In an official statement the Maltese authorities confirmed they had coordinated the operation.
While a magisterial inquiry into the case was conducted, it left many questions unanswered. It is still unknown how the 12 people died and how 51 were returned to Libya despite it being illegal to transfer people there.
The magistrate conducting the inquiry did not hear the testimonies of the 51 people transferred to Libya, nor probe the chain of responsibility to contract the Dar El Salam 1 and instruct it to transfer people to Libya.
The central Mediterranean is the latest border on which Amnesty International is highlighting abuses by EU member states authorities.
In 2020, Amnesty International has also documented abuses on the borders between Croatia and Bosnia, and Greece and Turkey. The EU urgently needs an independent and effective human rights monitoring system at its external borders to ensure accountability for violations and abuses. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)