Maltese govt urged to meet its human rights obligations towards migrants

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

In a letter addressed to the Prime Minister of Malta, Robert Abela, published today, Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic has urged the Maltese government to fully meet its human rights obligations towards migrants, including asylum seekers and refugees, who cross the Mediterranean to reach Europe.

In her letter to Prime Minister Abela, Mijatovic wrote that in accordance with their obligations under international maritime and human rights law, the Maltese authorities should respond effectively and urgently to any situation of distress at sea of which they become aware.

She also urged the Maltese government to investigate and address all credible allegations of delay or non-response to any such situation.

Migrant should not be sent back to Libya

Noting that Libya cannot be considered a place of safety, the Commissioner calls on Malta’s government to refrain from any action that would result in the return to and disembarkation in Libya of persons rescued or intercepted at sea.

This also includes refraining from issuing instructions to private vessels to disembark rescued persons in Libya, and not handing over responsibility to the Libyan Coast Guard or related entities.

In addition, she urges the government to ensure full accountability for situations in which action by the Maltese authorities has directly or indirectly led to such returns.

While acknowledging the challenges exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic such challenges cannot negate clear obligations to save lives at sea and to ensure prompt and safe disembarkation, said Mijatovic.

The Commissioner stresses that she will continue to call for more solidarity from Council of Europe member states with those countries, like Malta, which are on the frontline of migration movements to Europe.

She also underlines the need to ensure that humanitarian considerations always take priority over disagreements between member states about disembarkation.

Govt’s diplomatic engagement with the rest of the world is embarrassing, ridiculous and ineffective

The NGO Repubblika said it is grateful for the Commissioner’s intervention and her appeal for human rights to be respected, push backs to be halted, the disembarkation of rescued migrants held at sea to happen without delay, and civil society to be respected and allowed to work even when it disagrees with the government.

The NGO has published the Court’s ruling and decision that rejected their application for the court to order the government to allow people rescued at sea to be brought into the country according to international law.

The NGO said that the Court most definitely did not “acknowledge the position” of Malta’s government that Malta “is simply not in a ‘de facto’ position, at present, to ensure a ‘safe place’ on Maltese territory to any persons rescued at sea”.  In saying that it has, the government is grossly misrepresenting what the European Court of Human Rights said which meant that Repubblika’s request could not be considered by the Court for a purely technical reason.

The likely reason is that by the time Repubblika’s request reached the Court, migrants had already been pushed back to Libya.

The NGO Repubblika said that government’s diplomatic engagement with the rest of the world is proving embarrassing for our nation, ridiculous and ineffective.

“The government has not only tried to argue that Tripoli harbour is safer than Malta’s and that Libya’s hellish detention centres where human rights are regularly flouter is a safer destination than Malta because of COVID-19, but it is now also arguing that the European Court of Human Rights agrees with it, which it doesn’t” – said Repubblika.

In their statement issued on Monday it was explained how the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner called on the government to ensure that no action is taken by Malta that would result in the return to and disembarkation in Libya of persons rescued or intercepted at sea.

This includes ensuring no one is returned to Libya by Maltese authorities, refraining from issuing instructions to private vessels to disembark rescued persons in Libya, and not handing over responsibility to the Libyan Coast Guard or related entities when the foreseeable consequence of this would be disembarkation in Libya.