'Missing migrants' reached Italian territory within hours, AFM says

This is the first time that the AFM has issued a statement on the 110 migrants that NGOs believed went missing over the weekend

Updated at 7:30 pm with NGOs statement  

The Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) has issued a statement on the 110 migrants that were adrift in Malta's Search and Rescue Region, saying that the migrants safely reached Italian territory within hours from the initial allegations were reported.

"Allegations of boats sinking, left adrift, or rescues being hindered are false and unfounded. While some NGOs have lost sight of the boat, it is evident that this was not the case for local authorities who maintained the duty of care."

The AFM attached an image of the alleged boat, which they said was being powered by two outboard engines and "on a steady course and speed".

"Not every migrant boat on the high seas amounts automatically to a case of distress. There are various instances where migrant boats in international waters do not require assistance and express intent to proceed autonomously to their intended destination," it said.

The AFM said that the migrants on board repeatedly reiterated their intention to continue towards their intended destination.

"Contrary to allegations in the local media on this particular case, the migrants on board repeatedly reiterated their intention to continue proceeding towards their intended destination. Indeed, this particular boat, and others, reached safely their intended destination, and on their own steam."

This is the first time that the AFM issued a statement on the group of migrants. Humanitarian NGOs reported on Saturday that three dinghies carrying 60, 100 and 110 people, respectively, were adrift in the Maltese search and rescue region. 

Consequently, Sea Watch International accused the Maltese authorities of “actively hindering the rescue of the people, instead of coordinating it.”

The AFM rebutted this, saying that Search and Rescue operations are coordinated in accordance with the applicable international conventions, regulations and through the competent authority. 

Civil society reacts 

Civil society groups have welcomed news of the migrants’ safe disembarkation in Italy.  

“We thank the Italian authorities for allowing their disembarkation and for providing them with shelter and safety. We also appreciate the statement issued by the Armed Forces of Malta, confirming that the AFM had been closely monitoring this boat for some time,” a statement read.  

They said the incident “further confirms” the need and importance of sharing information in an open and transparent manner.  

“It is in the interests of safety of lives, transparency and accountability that we stressed – and continue to stress – the need for the competent authorities to refrain from withholding information relating to search and rescue activities,” they said. “It is inevitable for us to become concerned for the fate of persons who we believe to be missing, pushed-back or drowned.”  

READ ALSO: NGOs seek answers on fate of 100 missing migrants