Over 3,500 sign petition calling on Malta to rescue boat migrants

Reports of boat migrants out at sea intensify calls from concerned citizens for Malta to abide by its international obligations

File photo of the AFM’s P23 arriving in Malta after a successful rescue. Photo: John Pisani
File photo of the AFM’s P23 arriving in Malta after a successful rescue. Photo: John Pisani

A petition to Malta Prime Minister Robert Abela has requested that the Armed Forces succour a vessel carrying boat migrants inside the Maltese search and rescue zones, as fears grew of a boat capsizing in inclement weather.

The Easter petition has garnered over 3,500 signatories calling on the prime minister to succour a boat carrying 47 people, including a pregnant woman and children, could have already lost their lives at sea.

“We have known about their situation for days and we have not lifted a finger and this despite having all the means to save them. We have persisted in this course even when yesterday a mother begged us to ‘at least save my child’. We are writing to implore you to change course and send a Malta Armed Forces vessel to the area in question to save these people, and also others who are in the same predicament and who are all our brothers and sisters, from certain death before it is too late. Our common humanity can tolerate no delay in acting to fulfil this most serious obligation.”

European member states last week shut down their ports to boat migrant rescues, invoking emergency measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Malta’s foreign minister Evarist Bartolo also spoke to EU external relations commissioner Josep Borrell, claliming that migrant rescue charities were enabling human traffickers in Libya to send out boat migrants at sea, and ferry them to safety in Europe.

Over 300 academics have called on the government to reconsider its hawkish position and rescue boat migrants in distress.

The Maltese government fears that after Italy’s ports were shut down under the COVID-19 pandemic, more asylum seekers will be directed into the Maltese SAR zone and territorial waters.

The NGO Alarm Phone estimates that in just the week between 5-11 April, over 1,000 people on more than 20 boats left the Libyan shores.

“The Alarm Phone was alerted to 10 boats in total, two of which were rescued by [Sea-Eye’s] ‘Alan Kurdi’ on 6 April. Over 500 people are reported to have been returned to Libya within merely three days. Some of the survivors have informed us that six people drowned. Many of those returned were kept imprisoned on a ship at Tripoli harbour. Moreover, the fate of some boats remains unclear. At the same time, we have also learned of several other boats that reached Italy autonomously, arriving in Lampedusa, Sicily, Linosa and Pantelleria.”