Malta not in a position to ensure safe place for rescued migrants, Abela tells Council of Europe Human Rights commissioner

Prime Minister Robert Abela responds to concerns raised by COE Human Rights Commissioner over Malta’s handling of migration crisis by insisting the country needs ‘concrete support and action’

Malta has closed its ports to migrant disembarkation because of the coronavirus emergency
Malta has closed its ports to migrant disembarkation because of the coronavirus emergency

Malta is not in a position to ensure a safe place for rescued migrants, Robert Abela has told the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner.

The Prime Minister was replying to a letter of concern penned by Dunja Mijatovic in which she urged the government to ensure Malta fully meets its obligations when notified of a distress situation.

Mijatovic raised concern about allegations of delayed rescues and non-response to requests for assistance and asked for these to be investigated and addressed.

She also called on the government to ensure no action is taken by Malta that would result in the return to and disembarkation in Libya of persons rescued or intercepted at sea.

“This includes ensuring no one is returned to Libya by Maltese authorities, refraining from issuing instructions to private vessels to disembark rescued persons in Libya, and not handing over responsibility to the Libyan Coast Guard or related entities when the foreseeable consequence of this would be disembarkation in Libya,” Mijatovic wrote in her letter of 5 May.

The exchange of letters was disseminated to the media today.

In his reply, three days later, Abela assured the commissioner that “Malta has always been, and shall remain committed to saving lives at sea” and that the Armed Forces was coordinating search and rescue operations on an “ongoing basis”.

He said Malta’s international obligations was to coordinate search and rescue efforts in its SAR zone.

Abela insisted Malta “has always, and shall continue, to respond effectively and urgently to any situation of distress at sea of which it becomes aware”.

However, the Prime Minister remained defiant in that Malta will not allow the disembarkation of migrants at this time due to the COVID-19 emergency and in light of the increased number of arrivals this year.

“Malta is simply not in a de facto position, at present, to ensure a safe place on Maltese territory to any persons rescued at sea,” Abela said.

He also reiterated Malta’s call for an effective relocation mechanism that alleviated the disproportionate burden on border states.

“I eagerly await your feedback on an effective concrete plan of action to ensure proper burden-sharing by all Council of Europe member states. Malta believes in a comprehensive approach towards providing concrete solutions to the complexity and challenges of migration at sea,” Abela said.

However, the Prime Minister skirted the commissioner’s concern over returning migrants back to Libya – Malta is being accused of coordinating one such rescue when a Libyan-registered fishing boat based in Valletta was tasked with rescuing migrants, who were eventually returned to Tripoli.

“It is not prudent to publicly express further views as to the specific merits of recent events which you comment upon from ‘various recent reports about Malta's handling of the situation of migrants in distress at sea’, given that the same are subject to a pending criminal inquiry… my government would like to assure you that Malta, albeit unable to ensure a safe place for disembarkation, has exhausted its duties towards boats in distress,” Abela responded.

Read the letters here:



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