“Go to Italy, we have corona” – AFM tells migrants

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

A joint investigation by the Italian Catholic portal L’AVVENIRE and the British broadsheet THE GUARDIAN alleges that the Armed Forces of Malta first threatened migrants on a boat in Malta’s SAR zone that they will take them back to Libya, then they gave them petrol and an engine to go to Italy.

The authoritative news media houses produced an unsettling video and a harrowing story to support their story. The rescue platform Alarmphone also spoke out.

No answer from Government

In a chilling video, reproduced by kind permission of L’AVVENIRE and verified independently for authenticity, an AFM vessel is seen cruising among migrants who jumped into the sea to avoid being turned back to the Libyan concentration camps. The cliffs off the western coast of Malta are plainly visible, rendering it impossible to deny that the event occurred in Maltese national waters, that is, in Malta. Newsbook.com.mt has asked the Office of the Prime Minister if there will be an official reaction to these serious allegations by world-class press. No reply has so far been forthcoming even if the communication has been received and read by the communications office of the OPM.

Caught on camera

L’AVVENIRE wrote, “This time there is footage, there are photos, there are statements by survivors and cross-checks between the meagre information obtainable from the Libyan side to that gathered at the port of Pozzallo.”

THE GUARDIAN was no less disturbing “They gave us red life vests, a new engine and fuel and told us they would show us the route to Italy. Then they pointed guns at us and said: ‘We give you 30 minutes’ ”. These words were attributed to a survivor recalling the incident to the newspaper, at Pozzallo.

Deep, stormy seas

The footage relates to an operation involving a rubber dinghy with 101 souls on board. 101 souls left to make their way from Libya in a boat which cannot carry sufficient fuel for the journey to Sicily. The sea was rough. The sea was, is, deep, very deep, over 1,500m on average. Somehow, these people arrive at Pozzallo. The only one to do so of four such dinghies which left at the same time. One of the dinghies was re-routed to Libya as Newsbook had reported. On this case Magistrate Joe Mifsud is conducting an investigation on the culpability or otherwise of the Prime Minister and the Armed Forces in the case which resulted in 12 deaths

The mayor of Pozzallo told both L’AVVENIRE and THE GUADRIAN that this seems to be a new strategy adopted by the human traffickers: to take the immigrants out in a large boat, then transfer them to dinghies once in the open seas. The mayor said that he had never seen one of these dinghies lasting for over 100 hours in open stormy seas.

“Malta has corona”

Following their arrival in Sicily, the survivors were placed in mandatory quarantine since this was at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their words, as reported by L’AVVENIRE and THE GUARDIAN make disturbing reading:

“When we left Libya we saw large ships but they never came close to us.”

“We saw Malta as dawn was breaking. Everyone was happy and yelling.”

“We were approached by a ship which seemed Turkish as it had a red flag with a moon and a star on it. Someone from the crew called out on the megaphone that we were in Maltese waters. Then they launched a boat and approached us, repeating that we were in Maltese waters”

“They told us to keep going for 30 minutes and hand yourselves in. We asked if they could help us. They said no”

“A white boat came and threw us red life vests”

“When the military boat approached, it threatened us using firearms, saying that we must turn back to Libya. Many jumped into the sea because no one wanted to go back there. We could see the coast.”

“I did not know that the sea was so salty”

“They came to us and said, ‘Malta has a virus called corona if you’ve heard about it. We can’t take you there because everyone is sick in Malta. And Malta is small and can’t take all of you’.”

‘Go to Italy’

“They gave us red life vests, a new engine and fuel and told us they would show us the route to Italy. Then they pointed guns at us and said: ‘We give you 30 minutes’.”

“So [the Maltese boat] started turning around so we wouldn’t swim to the city. They were likely to kill us. They made waves. They gave us ropes and told us to hold on to the ropes and tie them to our boat and go back.”

“Then one of the Maltese officials said, ‘Ok we made a decision, we won’t return you to Libya’,” said another survivor. “He said, ‘We will show you the route to Italy’.” We said, ‘No, we don’t have fuel’. They said, ‘Ok we will give you fuel’. They gave us five gallons, 20 litres. Then we turned on the motor and it didn’t work. We told the officials that the previous Maltese vessel attached a rope to our boat to try pulling us back, but it hit the engine many times and the engine broke. They gave us a new engine, a 45 or 40 Yamaha.”

“We kept moving until the next day, and around 10 am we arrived in Italy,”

A violent and deadly Easter weekend

L’AVVENIRE quoted a spokesperson for the assistance platform Alarm Phone who described Easter weekend as ‘violent and deadly’. The boats were adrift in European SAR zones and Frontex was observing their progress through aeroplane. “Many were left to die of hunger or drowning under the watch of Malta and Frontex,” accused Alarm Phone.