UN raps Malta’s and Italy’s handling of migrants

In Libya migrants face torture, sexual violence

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR) raps Malta’s handling of migrants as when migrants are sent back to Libya they face horrendous conditions including torture and ill-treatment, sexual violence, lack of health care and other human rights violations. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR) added said that these overcrowded facilities are also, of course, at high risk of being over-run with COVID-19.

Migrants were sent to Libya on Malta’s initiative

The statement noted that the Libyan Coast Guard is doing this. It also confirmed that on 15 April, a vessel containing 51 migrants and asylum seekers, including 8 women and 3 children, was returned to Libya on a private Maltese boat after being picked up in Maltese waters. The migrants were sent to Takiq al-Sikka detention facility by the Libyan authorities. During their six days at sea, five people had died and seven others went missing and are presumed drowned.   

Prime Minister Robert Abela defended this action that was initiated by the Maltese government. He said that the migrants were sent back to Libya as this was the only port open. He described this initiative of the Maltese government as a ‘salvage mission’ and not as pushbacks.

UNCHR’s statement described the action of the government as one of ‘particular concern’. It noted that the sending back of migrants to unsafe places such as Libya goes against both international human rights and refugee law which condemns the expelling or returning of migrants to dangerous environments.

Good but not enough

The UNCHR says that currently there are at least three vessels with migrants on board awaiting disembarkation.

The welcomed the 7 May decision of the Maltese government that a small group of adults, including pregnant women, and children were allowed to disembark one of the vessels after the Maltese government gave a concession on humanitarian grounds.

The appealed that all migrants currently being held onboard the vessels currently in the area to be urgently disembarked, as the conditions on merchant ships are not suitable for long-term accommodation. 

Italy’s action condemned

The UNCHR called for restrictions on the work of the NGOs rescuing people from drowning to be lifted immediately. Such measures by Italy, said the Commissioner, are clearly putting lives at risk.

The UNCHR showed his concern that humanitarian search and rescue vessels, which usually patrol the central Mediterranean area, are being prevented from supporting migrants in distress, at a time when the numbers attempting to make the perilous journey from Libya to Europe has increased sharply.

The Commissioner referred to the decision by Italy to immobilize the humanitarian rescue ships Alan Kurdi and Aita Mari. He noted that as a result there are currently no active humanitarian search and rescue vessels in the central Mediterranean. The Italian Government is using administrative regulations and measures to impede the work of humanitarian NGOs. 

Calls for rescue being ignored

The Commissioner noted the claims made by several MGOs that their calls to the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres in Malta and Italy have gone unanswered or been ignored. The Commissioner said that if this is true it seriously calls into question the commitments of the States concerned with saving lives and respecting human rights.