Relatives of migrants who died in Malta pushback sue for damages

Relatives of deceased Eritrean migrants who died in alleged pushback by Armed Forces of Malta, are suing for damages resulting from human rights breaches

An IOM photo of the returned asylum seekers in Libya during which seven people perished at sea after the pushback from Malta
An IOM photo of the returned asylum seekers in Libya during which seven people perished at sea after the pushback from Malta

Relatives of deceased Eritrean migrants who died as a result of an alleged pushback by the Armed Forces of Malta, are suing the government for damages resulting from human rights breaches.

In a judicial protest filed before the First Hall of the Civil Court today, Fthawi Tesfamichael Welday from Eritrea, residing in Holland; and Asfaha Letenugus Amelesom also from Eritrea, but living in Sweden, called upon Prime Minister Robert Abela, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri and AFM Commander Brigadier Jeffrey Curmi to compensate them.

The Eritreans’ lawyers, Paul Borg Olivier and Eve Borg Costanzi, argued that the deaths of Mogos Tesfamichael Welday and Filimon Mengsteab Ghebremedhin – brothers of the plaintiffs – died during a rescue operation carried out by a Libyan-flagged fishing vessel that was coordinated by the Maltese authorities.

The fishing vessel had left Malta as an “agent of the State”, the lawyers argued, specifically to rescue and offer assistance to the boat full of migrants in distress because the AFM’s resources were unavailable at the time.

As the state’s agent, the boat had the obligation to follow the instructions of the Maltese State and therefore its claim to have returned to its home port in Libya – as stated by the Prime Minister on April 4 – was not justified as it went against Malta’s obligation to take the migrants to a safe harbour.

The deaths were the consequence of the Maltese operation and shortcomings by the State in honouring its international obligations, they argued.

It was alleged by the lawyers that the victims had valid reasons to seek asylum, had they not drowned.

For these reasons, they called upon the defendants to liquidate damages arising from the violation of their clients’ rights.

Plaintiffs exhibit video by the Guardian

In separate proceedings – the magisterial inquiry into the drownings, which is being carried out by Magistrate Joe Mifsud – Repubblika’s lawyers Paul Borg Olivier, Andrew Borg Cardona and Joseph Ellis, have filed a note, exhibiting a video by UK news provider the Guardian, which shows an AFM boat sailing at high speed near the migrants, putting them in danger, according to the NGO.

“The news report indicates at first glance, irresponsible actions which must be investigated by the inquiring magistrate, as it casts light upon the operations which led to the deaths of migrants in the same period,” reads the court filing.

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