On Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) handed the Maltese government a Rule 39 interim order blocking the return of around 45 Somali migrants from Malta to Libya. The decision was prompted by an application brought by the Jesuit Refugee Service and People for Change Foundation, together with a number of supporting organizations. The ECtHR has given the Maltese government one month in which to give a full and individual consideration to the asylum applications of the migrants.
Civil society organisations in Malta reacted with outrage to an announcement by the Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, that all options remained on the table in response to the arrival of a migrant boat, carrying 102 passengers, including returning the migrants on board to Libya. The adult male passengers were then booked onto flights to return them immediately to Tripoli. A group of 11 Maltese NGOs, including ECRE member organisations the Aditus Foundation and the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Malta, immediately issued a joint statement to the press, arguing that sending people back to Libya without informing them of their rights and examining any claims for international protection would violate international law, and expose the people concerned to inhuman and degrading treatment or even death in Libya. They also started a petition, signed by over 2,600 people, against the pushback.
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) also released a statement in opposition to the pushback, in which it recalls the ECtHR ruling in the case of Hirsi Jamaa and others v. Italy, which found that such returns violate the principle of non-refoulement.
Two weeks ago, Malta’s Constitutional Court of Appeal confirmed that the forced return of two Somali nationals to Libya in 2004 violated their human rights. Of the six migrants who were returned at that time, only two made it back to Malta; the rest died in the desert when they were deported to the border after months of imprisonment in terrible conditions in Libya
Malta’s Prime Minister Muscat said this was not a ‘pushback’, rather a demonstration that Malta was not a ‘pushover’, and would not continue to receive migrants bound for the EU without an increase in EU support. The 11 NGOs, however, say that it is inexcusable to use the lives of innocent people as a bargaining chip in the EU burden-sharing debate.
Muscat claimed his methods had been successful, after EU Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström, issued a statement which, in addition to expressing concern over the planned pushback, and noting that it would violate EU law, says that the EU stands ready to increase its support for Maltese migration management, both financially and through the European Asylum Support Office (EASO) and Frontex.