More clarity between Italy and Malta needed in rescue missions

Commissioner for Human Rights says it is difficult to accept that people in distress at sea can face death in one of the busiest areas of the Mediterranean.

The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights has called on Italy to discontinue its push-back operations of migrants intercepted at sea to countries like Libya were they are at risk of ill treatment or onward refoulement.

Thomas Hammarberg also noted that in some cases, lack of clarity and agreement between Italy and Malta on which country was responsible for rescue could delay operations and put the lives of migrants in distress at risk.

He referred to an episode currently being investigated by the CoE’s Parliamentary Assembly and which resulted in the death at sea of 61 persons, when a boat carrying 72 migrants was left adrift for two weeks in spite of its presence having reportedly been signalled to the authorities of Italy, Malta and NATO, and the boat itself having been spotted by a helicopter and a passing vessel of unidentified nationalities.

“More generally, the Commissioner finds it difficult to accept that people in distress at sea can face death in one of the busiest areas of the Mediterranean, especially now with the large numbers of military and other vessels in the area,” Hammarberg said in his human rights report for a delegation he led to Italy.

Since May 2009, and up to the beginning of the armed conflict in Libya in February 2011, the Italian authorities have carried out operations jointly with Libya in the central Mediterranean, aimed at intercepting migrants fleeing Libya on boats and returning them there.

“The practice has been repeatedly criticised for violating international human rights law, as migrants, including asylum seekers, are returned to Libya where they risk being ill-treated or in turn deported to other countries where they are exposed to such a risk, without being given an opportunity to seek and enjoy international protection through an individual assessment of their case,” Hammarberg said.

The beginning of these operations started shortly after the conclusion of agreements between Italy and Libya in 2008 and 2009. Hammarberg had already expressed disapproval of bilateral or multilateral agreements for the forced return of irregular migrants to countries with long-standing, proven records of torture.

In February, Italy also announced that it had suspended the implementation of its agreements with Libya, but in June it signed a memorandum of understand with the Libyan National Transitional Council to restart commitments contained in the agreements previously signed with Libya, including the repatriation of immigrants in an irregular situation.

Hammarberg called on the Italian authorities to ensure that in all cases where migrants are in distress at sea their rescue and safety enjoy absolute priority over all other considerations, including any lack of clarity and agreement, notably between Italy and Malta, about responsibilities for rescue.

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It is easy for Hammarberg to speak bec ause he is not Italian nor Maltese. The man should encourage his country to volunteer to take all the illegal migrants crossing from north africa without any reservation. Malta would gladly give temporary shelter to anyone if Mr. Hammarbert will gurantee that their final desitination is his home country. Otherwise he is talking a lot of nonsense. Malta with it small size is full up. Period. There is no room here for one more illegal migrant.
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Well its nearly as difficult to accept the fact that the rich European countries pretend that such tiny Malta would be able to integrate all the immigrants coming here. If Mr Thomas Hammarberg wants the bilaterial agreement between Italy and Libya to end then maybe he should work on eliminating another stupid treaty (the Dublin 2 one) which expects small countries like Malta to force immigrants to stay on this tiny island whether they like it or not.
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The game by the Italians is not lack of clarity; it is very clear that they want to take Malta's area of search and rescue. Someday, we will meet the same fate of the country that had an attractive resource. We are small fish like Ghaddafi. How can it be possible for so many naval NATO vessels to miss these boats full of illegal immigrants leaving Libya - a country surrounded from land and sea?
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If Hammarberg didn't encourage illegal immigrants to cross over to Europe they wouldn't be in danger would they?