Armed Forces refuses to disclose details of denied rescue to Pozzallo migrants

Survivors said AFM tried turning boat to Libya then diverted it to Sicily, but AFM refusing to disclose details of denied rescue

An inshore AFM interceptor at the scene of the interception of a migrant boat, before it was turned to Sicily
An inshore AFM interceptor at the scene of the interception of a migrant boat, before it was turned to Sicily

Malta’s armed forces have branded allegations of human rights breaches against migrants at sea as “false and unfounded”, despite survivor accounts of attempted pushbacks.

On Thursday, survivors from a boat that left Libya in April and ended up in Pozzallo, Sicily, revealed to the NGO Alarm Phone that the AFM had attempted to turn back the boat to Libya while it was close to Malta, before pointing it in the direction of Italy. 

The migrants were eventually received in Italy. 

But the AFM has refused to share details of the event with MaltaToday, with details on the location of the boat migrants – who are believed to have been inside Maltese waters – and as to its policy of diverting boats away from Malta. 

“The Armed Forces of Malta adopts measures to preserve the safety of life at sea at all times and at no point are the lives of those involved placed in any additional risk. On the contrary, the AFM often has to adopt steps to mitigate as far as possible or counter the danger occasioned by the migrants themselves. 

“Throughout the years, the Armed Forces of Malta have rescued thousands of migrants from drowning at sea. It is also noted that this is not the first time that false and unfounded allegations are made on the Armed Forces of Malta, recently including by means of paid adverts in the media,” an army spokesperson told MaltaToday.

If the boat was in Maltese waters, the AFM would have been obliged to rescue migrants who could include asylum seekers. But Malta is currently refusing to receive irregular migrants at sea, citing the coronavirus health emergency, with over 160 men currently being held aboard two Captain Morgan pleasure cruise ferry boats at Hurd’s Bank, outside territorial waters, in a bid to prevent them from claiming asylum in Malta and to force the EU’s hand in sharing the responsibility of their relocation among member states. 

NGOs have reported that migrants aboard these boats are enduring a hunger strike in a final act of desperation. 

The Maltese government has been silent on the accusations made against the armed forces, and is also vetoing the EU’s naval operation Irini, which enforces a Libyan arms embargo, in a game of brinkmanship to force the European Commission’s hand on migrant relocation. 

For years, the government had deployed an envoy to Libya – an employee of the Office of the Prime Minister – to convince local militias and the coast guard to prevent the departure of migrant boats. Neville Gafà, who no longer is employed at the OPM, now claims Malta faces the arrivals of some 200 migrants from Eritrea and Somalia who were released from their detention in the Libyan city of Zawia, as confirmed by the Libyan Directorate for Combatting Illegal Migration. 

Gafà has claimed on Facebook, where he keeps an active presence speaking on migration in Libya, that these migrants have been transport to the town of Zliten and then will probably be smuggled out of Libya from Al Khoms, Zawia, and Zuhara, all through the Central Mediterranean route. 

Gafà said on that the only way of preventing these dangerous crossings at sea is through direct liaison with the Libyan government. “It would be useless for Malta to waste its energy with the EU, which cannot give us protection from this serious threat,” he said, specifically referring to the alleged infiltration of terrorists in such mixed flows of migration. “The problem has to be addressed directly with the Libyan government.” 

More in National