As hundreds of people fleeing Libya are intercepted and returned to detention and conflict Malta has signed a memorandum with Libya’s Government of National Accord to intensify cooperation and has come under heavy criticism for detaining now 450 rescued people in tourist vessels off the Maltese shore.
During a visit to Libya on Thursday, Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela and the head of Libya’s Government of National Accord, Fayez al-Sarraj signed a memorandum of understanding agreeing to set up a coordination unit in each country to “assist in operations against illegal migration”. The agreement also stipulates that Malta supports Libya when it comes to financial assistance through the EU’s upcoming Multiannual Financial Framework.
Today, Alarm Phone reports that over the last two days they received distress calls from some 260 people on four boats in the Central Mediterranean, of which 75 people were rescued to Malta and 187 people reached Lampedusa. Over 200 were intercepted and returned to Libya on Thursday alone.
IOM confirmed that a German commercial ship under a Portuguese flag returned 98 people to Misrata, Libya. Upon the request of Maltese authorities, the vessel MS Anne reportedly rescued the group on Sunday night and returned them into the hands of the Libyan navy on Wednesday.
In the beginning of the week, the UN refugee agency in Libya said two of 315 people intercepted and returned to Tripoli early on Monday died while according to IOM over 400 refugees and asylum seekers were taken to the al-Nasser detention facility in the town of Zawya, west of Tripoli.
One person has been found dead and six people remain missing after a boat from Tunisia carrying migrants bound for Italy capsized on Saturday off the coast of Thyna near the port of Sfax.
After the killing of 30 migrants in a shooting in a warehouse on Wednesday and recent and numerous incidents involving boats in distress in the Mediterranean Sea, IOM stresses the
urgency to “establish an alternative safe disembarkation scheme whereby those fleeing conflict and violence are provided with a port of safety, and their needs and protection guaranteed”.
The Maltese government chartered a fourth tourist boat to host, outside of their territorial waters, people rescued at sea after the Armed Forced of Malta (AFM) rescued another 75 people in distress on Wednesday night. The AFM reports that 18 women and nine children from a group of 90 rescued on Tuesday, after being alerted by the NGO Alarm Phone, were brought to Malta for humanitarian reasons. The latest rescue ups the number of people held on the vessels to 425,
An open Letter to Maltese Prime Minister Abela authored by Amnesty International states: “Nothing can justify holding people for days without legal basis and in inadequate conditions. Ferry boats are not suited for long stays nor can they cater for the needs of people rescued at sea. The need to avoid the spreading of Covid-19 is no excuse to impose unnecessary, inhumane and discriminatory measures against traumatized people, such as denying their disembarkation. Lack of solidarity by other EU Member States cannot justify their arbitrary detention either.”
Over the past two weeks, IOM Libya reports that a total of at least 697 people were intercepted at sea and returned to the conflict-torn country.
For further information:
- ECRE, Med: New Evidence of Malta’s Deadly Strategies, May 2020
- ECRE, Med: 78 to quarantine on Italian Ship, 163 still Stranded amid Spike in Departures and Depleted Rescue Capacities, May 2020
- ECRE, Med: Hundreds Remain Stranded at Sea as Ports are Still Closed, Solidarity Remains Lacking and Interceptions Continue, May 2020
- ECRE, Med: Former Maltese Official Admits Push-Back while another 62 People are Left Stranded, 08 May 2020
- ECRE, Med: 180 Quarantined on Italian Ship while NGO takes Legal Actions against Maltese Decision-Makers, April 2020
- ECRE, Med: 12 Left to Die and 182 Stranded as EU States Refuse Rescue, April 2020
- ECRE, Med: 150 Stranded at Sea as Malta and Italy Declare Ports “unsafe”, April 2020
- ECRE, Med: IRINI Ships will Not Search but Rescue – Civilian Search and Rescue Vessel Back at Sea, April 2020
- ECRE, Med: EU Naval Arms Embargo Mission Jeopardised Over Migration Concerns, Cyprus Turns Away Syrian Nationals, March 2020
- ECRE, Med: Search and Rescue Operations Under Pressure from COVID-19, Interceptions and Return to Libya Continue, March 2020
- ECRE, Interview: WatchTheMed Alarm Phone: A Response for Rescue and a Call for Change,February 2020
- ECRE, Med: Death Toll Mounting, NGOs Rescue, Returns to Libya Continue,February 2020
- ECRE, Med: People Returned, Rescued and Gone Missing, 20 February 2020
- ECRE, Med: Disembarkations in Italy, Rescues by Malta, Court release NGO Vessel, 14 February 2020
- ECRE, Med: NGOs Rescue Almost 1000 people – Pull-backs to Libya continue, January 2020
- ECRE, Mediterranean: Rescue Operation and Hope for Sophia’s Ships, January 2020
- ECRE, Safe Ports in Italy for 237 People but 1000 Returned to Detention in Libya, January 2020
- ECRE, Appeal Court Clears Lifeline Captain of all Charges – NGOs Continue to Rescue, January 2020
- ECRE, Operation Sophia: Ships Remain Suspended while Support of Libyan ‘Coast Guard’ Continues, September 2019
- ECRE, Last Breath of Operation Sophia Should Push Coalition of the Willing, March 2019
- ECRE, A Contingency Plan for Disembarkation and Relocation, January 2019
- ECRE, Med: Deaths, Returns, Rescues and Hope for Justice, December 2019
- ECRE, EU Praise of Libyan Coast Guard out of Touch with Reality, September 2020
Photo: (CC) Neil Howard, November 2016
This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.