NGOs tell Commission: Don’t support Malta plan to send back refugees

Statements from ETUC, Maltese Democratic Party and NGOs: as EU leaders meet for Malta summit, they call on European Commission not to support Malta proposal to suspend non-refoulement principle

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat today hosts an EU summit. Right: EC president Jean-Claude Juncker
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat today hosts an EU summit. Right: EC president Jean-Claude Juncker

Malta’s human rights NGOs have called on the European Commission to refrain from taking action on the Maltese presidency’s plans for a €200 million migration plan that has proposed the suspension of the key humanitarian principle of non-refoulement.

The European Council meets in Malta to discuss a package of proposals to assist Libyan naval vessels to stop migrant boats, as well as monitoring southern Libyan borders.

 “Anything short of an absolute and clear non-engagement will inevitably result in complicity in flouting the Union’s values and making these Europe’s darkest day,” the NGOs said in a stark warning over the Maltese plan.

READ MORE €200 million migration plan proposed for EU summit

The Maltese government has suggested a way of bypassing non-refoulement in times of “international crisis” in a bid to stem the migration flow from Libya.

The NGOs said this was a fundamental principle that, for centuries, had protected the lives of millions of refugees.

“Setting it aside would effectively sign the death sentence for all those people who continue to run away from their homes in search of safety. Enshrined in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and a host of other human rights instruments, the rule strictly prohibits States from returning refugees to places where their lives are threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion and membership of a particular social group,” the NGOS said.

The principle also protects all persons from being sent to countries where they would face serious human rights violations such as the death penalty, torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.

“At its heart, the principle embodies humanity’s spirit of solidarity with one another. It is therefore with extreme repulsion that the undersigned Maltese non-governmental organisations read of Malta’s appeal to brush this value aside. As with all state policies, migration and asylum management can never be based on an approach that tramples on the dignity and rights of persons.”

The statement was signed by aditus foundation, African Media Association, Arab-Maltese Community, The Critical Institute, Integra Foundation, International Association for Refugees, JRS Malta, Malta Emigrants’ Commission, Migrants’ Network for Equality, Moviment Graffitti, Organisation for Friendship in Diversity, The People for Change Foundation, Platform of Human Rights Organisations in Malta, SOS Malta, Spark 15, and the Sudanese Community in Malta.

ETUC statement

In another statement on today’s EU Valletta Summit, the European Trade Unions Conference secretrary-general Luca Visentini said the EU should not outsource the management of the humanitarian refugee crisis to Libya, and called on the Summit to recognise high unemployment, poverty and growing inequality as the major threat to the stability of the EU in its discussion on the future of Europe. 

“It is bad enough that the EU is paying Turkey to keep refugees out of Europe, it should avoid doing the same with Libya. Conditions for refugees in Libya would be much worse than in Turkey. Obliging refugees to stay in Libya would be in disregard of the EU’s international obligations and humanitarian duty. Outsourcing the management of the humanitarian refugee crisis is not the answer. Closing the Mediterranean route merely shifts the burden of responsibility even more onto Africa, and does nothing to address the root causes.  I urge the EU not to do this.

“I am deeply disappointed that President Tusk does not acknowledge high unemployment, poverty and growing inequality as a threat to the stability of the EU. Popular discontent with the EU and the rise of openly racist politicians would end if people had good prospects for quality jobs, decent wages, and decent essential services such as housing, health and education for themselves and their children. I agree there are also other threats, but it is really important to recognise that while the crisis may be over for the elites it is still hitting working people very hard.”

Democratic Party

PD leader Marlene Farrugia appealed to leaders to have the EU establish asylum centres inside its own territory, if Libya and other North African countries are unable to provide adequate protection for migrants and refugees waiting to be processed for asylum.

"Europe's financial crisis is over. Its economy is growing again. We will be able to provide employment for our citizens and the migrants. In the long term the injection of new blood and human capital into our European economy will bolster our potential to grow in many directions including for eg agriculture which is not the employment of choice for this generation of homegrown Europeans," Farrugia said.

"Any major financial capital outlay by EU to address the refugee tragedy, should remain and be recirculated in Europe. EU countries who refuse to share the burden should be made to contribute financially to help the EU countries who wish to contribute towards the humane handling of this by product of human excess resulting in war and environmental destruction and consequently human displacement."