El Hiblu three receive human rights award for saving over a hundred migrants from pushback

Accepting the award, Amara Kromah urged human rights defenders around the world to remember the power of collective action for a better future

Photo: Amnesty International
Photo: Amnesty International

One of the men currently awaiting trial for allegedly hijacking the oil tanker that had rescued them and a group of African migrants from the sea - by convincing its captain not to return them to Libya - has urged human rights defenders around the world to remember the power of collective action for a better future.

In a ceremony yesterday at the University of Malta’s Valletta campus, the Coalition for the El Hiblu 3 presented Abdalla Bari, Amara Kromah and Abdul Kader with the Human Rights Defenders Award.

Former President of Malta Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca bestowed the award, on behalf of the Coalition, upon the three men "in recognition of the bravery and solidarity they demonstrated when faced with the threat of a pushback to Libya in 2019."  

The event took place just a few weeks after the fifth anniversary of their arrival in Malta.

By acting as translators and mediators between the captain of the merchant vessel El Hiblu1 and the large group of people that it had rescued at sea, the men played an important role in preventing the forced return of over 100 people to Libya, where they had experienced serious human rights violations.

“For these life-saving actions, they continue to face accusations of terrorism and other serious offences in Malta, five years on,” said the Coalition for the El Hiblu 3 in a statement, announcing the award.

“Besides their defence of human rights at sea, they have also shown tremendous resilience and strength of character during their many years in Malta. While their youth has been stolen and they have had to endure court hearing after hearing, they have built lives and livelihoods in Malta. They have studied, worked, raised a child, made friends and allies. In their struggle against injustice, they have been joined by an international campaign that demands that the charges will finally be dropped.”

Katrine Camilleri, a lawyer and the director of JRS Malta, made one of many speeches during the ceremony.” The truth is that, in a world where human rights abuses are far from the exception, and where they happen in places which are out of the sight and reach of most people who would traditionally be described as human rights defenders – out at sea, at land borders or in detention centres – were it not for the actions of individuals like Amara, Abdalla, and Kader, human rights law would be worth little more than the paper it is written on,” Camilleri said.

“Instead of thanking these three young men, the Maltese authorities arrested them,” said Christine Cassar, from Moviment Graffitti in her address to the ceremony. “The accusations against Abdalla, Amara and Kader still hang over them. Libya was and is still recognised as an unsafe country for migrants. Any human has the fundamental human right to seek protection in a safe place. There is still time for the Maltese authorities to drop the charges. Again we state, these three young men, Abdalla, Amara and Kader, are heroes.”

Karl Kopp, representing the organisation Pro Asyl compared the ongoing hostile treatment the men are receiving from Malta with the handling of a similar case by its closest European neighbour, expressing his hope that the “legal farce” will come to an end soon. “In Italy, the captain of the Asso 28 is convicted because handing over boat refugees to the Libyan coastguard constitutes a crime. In Malta, three young, courageous people are being put on trial because they had prevented precisely this crime, by acting as moderators and without using violence,” Kopp said.

Amara Kromah: “It is incumbent upon each of us to stand up for what is right and just”

In his speech, accepting the award, Amara Kromah said he was “profoundly honoured and humbled,” expressing his gratitude to all who had provided support to the group.

“This award is not just a recognition of our efforts but also a testament to our collective commitment toward a more just and equitable society. Growing up in Guinea, a country with its own challenges and triumphs, I have witnessed first hand the struggles faced by marginalised communities, particularly the youth. In a society where opportunities are often scarce, and voices are silenced, advocating for human rights becomes not just a choice but a moral imperative,”  Kromah said.

“As I stand here today, I am reminded of the words of Nelson Mandela, who once said, ‘To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.’ In a world grappling with systemic injustices, it is incumbent upon each of us to stand up for what is right and just.” 

“This Human Rights Defender Award serves as a beacon of hope, inspiring us to redouble our efforts to pursue a world where everyone is treated with dignity, respect, and equality under the law. In conclusion, I accept this award not only on my behalf but also on behalf of all those who continue to fight for human rights around the world courageously. Let us seize this moment as a reminder of the power of collective action and the possibility of a brighter future for generations to come.”