Activists denounce Malta’s ‘murderous policy’ on migrant crossings in the Mediterranean

Shoes laid down in Valletta symbolic action to mark the lives of migrants lost at sea

Activists recall thousands of migrants who have died while crossing the Mediterranean in attempt to reach safety on European shores
Activists recall thousands of migrants who have died while crossing the Mediterranean in attempt to reach safety on European shores

Human rights activists have denounced what they claim is the Maltese authorities’ “murderous policy” when dealing with migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

In a symbolic gesture beneath the Valletta bastions to commemorate the Global Day of CommemorAction for the Dead, Missing, Persecuted and Forcefully Disappeared at Sea and at the Borders, activists laid out shoes to remember the hundreds of unknown migrants who died while trying to reach the safety of European shores.

More than 1,300 people are believed to have died or disappeared in the Central Mediterranean in 2022, bringing the total death toll to 25,000 since 2014.

The action was endorsed by 47 organisations that accused the Maltese government of abdicating its search and rescue responsibilities.

“The Maltese government’s continued failure to uphold its search and rescue (SAR) responsibilities contributes to this death toll by putting lives at risk,” they said.

Quoting unofficial statistics compiled by civilian rescue operators on the basis of accounts given by rescued migrants and “media analysis”, the activists said the Maltese authorities ignored more than 20,000 people in distress - 413 boats in distress in Malta’s SAR zone were not assisted, and only three boats were rescued by the Maltese Armed Forces.

Activists said people in distress in Malta’s SAR zone must be rescued without delay.

“Despite Minister Byron Camilleri's claim of ‘defending our realm’, government decisions to delay and avoid rescue lead directly to the loss of life at sea. Four-year-old Loujin died of thirst in September 2022 after days of being in distress in Malta’s SAR zone. Her death makes clear the consequences of our government’s actions. The murderous policy adopted by the Maltese authorities must be reversed,” the organisations said.

They also noted that last year, some 24,600 people were pushed back to Libya after being intercepted at sea. Returning people to Libya has been widely condemned for violating international law and the principle of non-refoulement since Libya is not deemed to be a safe place.

Migrants regularly face torture, rape, and death in Libya, yet, on multiple occasions, Maltese authorities have allowed the Libyan coast guard or instructed private vessels to return people to Libya from Malta’s search and rescue zone.

The activists also denounced what they called government’s “divisive rhetoric and practices” that reinforce violence against asylum seekers and encourages racism.

“Malta and the Mediterranean should not be a place of death but rather a place of refuge and safety. The government must reassess its approach towards migration and engage with those who are dedicated to supporting migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees. Until then, Malta will continue to be responsible for causing harm to those seeking a better life,” they said.

The organisations that endorsed the event are: aditus, African Media Association Malta, Alleanza Kontra l-Faqar, Allied Rainbow Communities, Black Lives Matter Malta, Blue Door Education, Caritas Malta, Christian Life Community, Dance Beyond Borders, Dar Hosea, Dar tal-Providenza, Faculty of Education (University of Malta), Fondazzjoni Sebħ, Free El Hiblu 3, Humanists Malta, Integra Foundation, Jesuit Refugee Service Malta, Kopin Malta, LGBTI+ Gozo, Malta House of Prayer, Men Against Violence, MGRM, Migrant Women Association Malta, Migrants Commission, Moviment Graffitti, Peace and Good Foundation, PeaceLab, PEN Malta, president emeritus Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, Repubblika, SAR Malta Network, Segretarjat Assistenza Soċjali tal-AKM, SOS Malta, SPARK15, St Jeanne Antide Foundation, Sudanese community, the Association for Justice, Equality and Peace, the Critical Institute, the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, the Good Shepherd Sisters - Dar Merhba Bik Foundation, the Justice and Peace Commission, the Malta Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society, the Maltese Association of Social Workers, the Paulo Freire Institute Foundation, the People for Change Foundation, Women's Rights Foundation and YMCA.