Watch: PM cites national interest when asked about Libyan detention centres

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Prime Minister Robert Abela cited national interest when asked if the Maltese government shares the opinion of the United Nations and the Council of Europe on the state of detention centres in Libya.

Asked by Newsbook.com.mt whether the government insists with Libya on its human rights record and whether the government’s position differs from that of the Council of Europe, the United Nations and Pope Francis’ who recently likened detention centres in Libya to concentration camps, Abela said that the Libyan and Maltese government had a shared priority.

He maintained that that one should not give the impression that one cannot reason with the Libyan authorities and that Libya does not respect several rights. He defended the friendship between Malta and the war torn country saying that there was a dialogue between the two states and reciprocal trust.

Among the shared interests, Malta and Libya find migration as a common theme. Abela remarked that both sides would like to see the presence of UNHCR and the IOM on the Libyan shores to ensure that the conditions are good within the detention centres.

Abela said that Malta knew its international duties and obligations under international law.

Migrant landings are ‘against’ national interest

The Prime Minister insisted that migrant landings were against the country’s national interest and that the government will continue its efforts to reduce arrivals. He explained that the government had carried out a lot of work in the field of migration over the past six months.

‘I am Prime Minister of Malta and Gozo and I will protect our islands’ interest,’ Abela stressed.

He maintained that while this did not exclude other considerations, he claimed that migration burden was excessive and not proportional to the size of the country. He deplored the lack of help from other EU member states noting however that in recent months the Maltese government managed to secure the relocation of a number of asylum seekers that had arrived in Malta. This was not enough, Abela added.

The Prime Minister said that Malta found a lot of help from ‘our Libyan friends’.

‘I will be at the forefront to push for the upholding of human rights, however, our priority remains to protect the country against the influx of migrants,’ Abela concluded.

Pope Francis on Libyan detention centres

Last Wednesday, Pope Francis compared migrant detention centres in Libya to concentration camps, saying the world was being given only a diluted version of how hellish life really was for the people living there. The Pope, who has in the past called for the camps to be closed, made his comments in his homily during a Mass to mark the seventh anniversary of his trip to the Italian island of Lampedusa, landing place for many migrants making the perilous crossing from North Africa.

Non-refoulement

Asked about non-refoulement, Abela said that no refoulement was ever committed.

Non-refoulement is a fundamental principle under international law that forbids a country receiving asylum seekers from returning them to a country in which they would likely be in danger of persecution based on a number of characteristics. The principle refers to generic repatriation of people including refugees into war zones. The principle even applies to states that are not parties to the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees.

In May while asylum seekers were being detained offshore on pleasures crafts leased by the government, IOM and UNHCR unequivocally reiterated that no one rescued at sea should be returned to Libya.

“The misery and risk to life posed by intensifying conflict, arbitrary detention and widespread human rights violations, amongst other factors, meaning it cannot be considered a place of safety. Direct or indirect State involvement through commercial boats in the return of rescued migrants and refugees to Libya may constitute a violation of international law” said the organisations.

Libya is not signatory to the Geneva Convention

Libya is not party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or its Protocol. The country ratified the 1969 Convention which governs specific aspects of refugee problems in Africa and is party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The country has no asylum legislation or any established asylum procedures. Non-Libyans whether they are asylum-seekers, refugees, victims of trafficking or migrants fall under national Libyan immigration laws. This means that Libyan laws which criminalize irregular entry, stay or exit are applicable without distinguishing between the status of the person.