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Malta ‘in the dark’ over Libya IMO communication

In Libya, many asylum seekers end up detained, face abuse, extortion and forced labour at the hands of armed groups, criminal gangs and smugglers, according to refugee aid agency Oxfam

miriam
Miriam Dalli
17 August 2017, 9:35am
Every month, thousands of irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees cross from Libya to Italy by sea, in the hope of making their way to Europe
Every month, thousands of irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees cross from Libya to Italy by sea, in the hope of making their way to Europe
Malta is honouring a 2009 agreement signed with Libya in which it would assist the North African country in monitoring its search and rescue region, according to a letter sent to the International Maritime Organisation.

But the Maltese government says it is unaware of the letter, which was reported by Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, which claimed that Libya will be calling upon Malta to monitor Tripoli’s SAR region.

The letter, which according to Il Sole was signed by the president of the Libyan Ports Authority, Omar al Gawashi, also points towards the 2009 bilateral agreement to strengthen the base of Libya’s statement.

Al Gawashi is said to have told the international maritime agency that Libya did not have enough resources to operate its SAR regions on its own and would therefore deploy Malta’s help. Tripoli did so because it wants to retain control over its SAR region, despite the number of persons trafficked from Libya to Europe by sea continuing unabated.

“We have not received any formal letter from Libya or the International Maritime Organisation,” a spokesperson for the Maltese government said when contacted for a comment.

Every month, thousands of irregular migrants, asylum seekers and refugees cross from Libya to Italy by sea, in the hope of making their way to Europe. But now Italy is facing a crisis, having decided to start taking in all migrants following the 2013 shipwreck tragedy when over 360 persons were killed. 

In previously unheard audio, released earlier this year, Italian authorities are shown to have let dozens of refugees drown in the Mediterranean, despite having been around 61 miles away from Lampedusa. The Italian Coast Guard is heard telling the Syrian refugees, who had launched a distress call, that they should be calling Malta, which was 118 miles away.

Since that incident, Italy agreed to take in all migrants rescued at sea, in an agreement with Malta that remains shrouded in mystery.

But Italy is today buckling under the pressure of migrant numbers, and is seeking ways of stopping migrants from leaving Libya. The voyage from across the Mediterranean Sea, with Italy as the destination, is the main route to Europe for many, with over 95,000 having set sail this year.

In Libya, many asylum seekers end up detained, face abuse, extortion and forced labour at the hands of armed groups, criminal gangs and smugglers, according to refugee aid agency Oxfam.

Migrants who made it to Italy told Oxfam how they were kept in cells full of dead bodies, forced to call their families to ask for ransom money, and beaten and starved for months on end. 

Three-quarters of the 160-odd arrivals interviewed by the charity saw a fellow migrant tortured or killed, while at least eight in 10 said they suffered ‘inhuman or degrading treatment’. 

Now, the Italian Cabinet has agreed to send a mission Libya, to try to stem the influx of migrants by having Italian forces controlling the border within the North African country’s territorial waters.

miriam
Miriam Dalli joined MaltaToday.com.mt in 2010 and was assistant editor fr...