The Council of Europe is calling for “immediate action needed to disembark migrants held on ships off Malta’s coast”. Italy considers charges against Malta for “aiding illegal migration” while an inquiry cleared Maltese Prime Minister and other officials of homicide in relation to the deaths of five migrants.

Over 400 people rescued in the Maltese SAR zone over the last three weeks continue being held in tourist vessels chartered by the Maltese government and moored outside of Maltese territorial waters. The Maltese government is reportedly waiting for other EU member states to agree to relocate them. Aljazeera reports that, so far, only France has pledged to take some of them.

In a statement, Dunja Mijatović, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, urges Malta to grant monitoring bodies and agencies access to the ships off its coast and requests concrete actions to ensure that the current situation is ended as soon as possible and not repeated. The Commissioner is also concerned that the confinement of those rescued on the ships, as well as the lack of remedies against this measure and its indefinite duration, may not be compliant with the right to liberty of those on board, as guaranteed by Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. She further urges Malta to ensure that the decision to position the ships just outside territorial waters does not result in those on board being deprived of the opportunity to request international protection.

At the end of May, ECRE Member aditus together with Jesuit Refugee Service Malta and Integra foundation filed three complaints regarding the situation of the people held on the vessels: one with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants, one with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and one with the European Commission concerning the breach of fundamental of rights, including the right to liberty, the right to asylum and the right to an effective legal remedy.

The Maltese prime minister Robert Abeloa, Brigadier Jeffery Curmi, and the crew of an Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) patrol boat were cleared of homicide in a local investigation into whether they were responsible for the deaths of at least five people at sea. According to the government the inquiry had also concluded that Malta had met its international obligations. The inquiry was triggered by a police complaint from civil society NGO Repubblika in April about two separate incidents at sea, concerning the death of several people in the course of a push-back operation to Libya and the alleged intentional sabotage of a rubber boat trying to reach Malta.

According to the Guardian the Italian government has confirmed that the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) turned a boat with people fleeing Libya away at gunpoint from Maltese waters, after giving them fuel and the GPS coordinates to reach Italy. The evidence was published by the NGO Alarm Phone. Police in Sicily are investigating and the prosecutor’s office may open an investigation against Malta in the next few days. Maltese officers could reportedly be charged with aiding “illegal immigration”.

Alarm Phone reports that a boat of 75 reached Lampedusa autonomously after they reached out to their distress hotline.

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Photo: (CC) mini_malist, February 2019

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin . You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.