Interior Minister Michael Farrugia has failed to reply whether he considers Libya as a safe place, while fielding questions from the press following the mini summit held in Malta on Monday.
Libya is not party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not have a refugee law or procedure.
Replying to a question by Newsbook.com.mt on whether he considers Libya a safe country, Minister Farrugia replied that where Libya is concerned, the Libyan Coast Guard and its vessels intervene to rescue people trying to escape the country. He emphasized that the work of the Libyan Coast Guard prevents the loss of life, adding that its work ‘helped a lot so that hundreds did not drown in the Mediterranean sea’.
Minister Farrugia inadvertently referred to the principle of non-refoulement. He said that there are other regulations in place which prevent people from being sent back to Libya, before stressing that the Libyan Coast Guard is responsible for its own area.
Non-refoulement is a fundamental principle of international law that forbids a country receiving asylum seekers from returning them to a country in which they would be in likely danger of persecution.
Just two months ago 53 migrants were killed after an airstrike hit a migrant detention centre outside of Tripoli.
UN bodies and non-profit organisations have decried the inhumane conditions for migrants in Libya, where active conflict and instability persist. The United Nations Refugee Agency urged the ‘immediate release’ of migrants and refugees around Tripoli, to safety, earlier on this year.
According to data gathered by the Italian Institute for International Political Studies until May, almost 1,000 migrants have been intercepted by the Libyan Coastguard or other maritime groups, and subsequently returned to Libya, since the start of the year.
Asked what kind of measures are they planning to take in Libya and whether the EU would continue supporting the Libyan Coast Guard, Minister Farrugia stressed that Libya has its own search and rescue area, of which it is responsible. He added that whenever the subject cropped up in discussions, the European Union recognised Libya’s search and rescue area.
In January the United Nations estimated that 3,700 persons detained at official facilities in Libya required international protection. The United Nations estimated that 5,300 persons who were migrants and refugees are currently detained in the country. The number does not include people detained by armed groups.
How did Libya get its SAR zone?
Libya submitted the details of its maritime search and rescue region to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN agency responsible for regulating shipping, in August 2018.
Prior to this, there was no official search and rescue zone in the area, with the coordination of responses to migrant crises there typically falling to Italy.
The European Commission had asked the Italian Coast Guard in 2016 to support the Libyan authorities in identifying and declaring a search and rescue region.
Italian Minister Luciana Lamorgese told reporters on Monday that the Memorandum of Understanding with Libya still holds.
In February 2017, then-Interior Minister Marco Minniti signed a memorandum of understanding with the leader of the UN-recognised government, Fayez al-Serraj, which introduced a new level of cooperation between the coastguard and the Italians. It also included the provision of four patrol vessels.
The European Union has provided training, equipment, and funds to Libyan coast guard forces to intercept both in Libyan coastal waters and international waters, and to return migrants and asylum seekers to Libyan territory.
Video: Miguela Xuereb