Human rights NGOs call for more attention, action on migration

A number of Maltese humanitarian NGOs have expressed their shock and concern about the tragedy which claimed some 650 migrants' lives on Saturday

The Italian coastguard brought the bodies of 24 victims of Saturday's shipwreck thought to have claimed over 650 lives • Photo by Ray Attard
The Italian coastguard brought the bodies of 24 victims of Saturday's shipwreck thought to have claimed over 650 lives • Photo by Ray Attard

A number of human rights NGOs in Malta have expressed their concerns about the rapidly deteriorating crisis of migrant crossings the Mediterranean. The comments come after another vessel loaded with migrants was shipwrecked towards 12pm on Satuday. The vessel is believed to have carried around 700 people, with only 28 survivors being found so far.

Assistant Director of the Jesuits Refugee Service in Malta (JRS) Kristina Zammit said that the organisation was still in deep shock following the death of so many migrants.

“This accident has occurred so close to another one which has already claimed the lives of 400 migrants. We are both shocked and angry that so little action is being taken to prevent this human loss from occurring,” Zammit said.

Zammit said that many organisations were hopeful and expectant of the results of the EU minister’s meeting taking place today.

“The JRS is pushing for the idea of safe access to territory,” she said explaining that curbing human traffickers was important, but that providing migrants with safe access to other countries was crucial.

“These people are running away from persecution and they are desperate to go somewhere else, so stopping these people from leaving Libya is not the solution. People need to be allowed to travel safely in view of the terrible situation they are running from,” Zammit stressed.

She explained that the EU needed to find ways to ensure the safety of migrants even in transit countries.

“We have just seen a recent case where Ethiopian Christians were killed by jihadist extremists in Libya, which goes to show how dangerous the country is,” she said adding that the country was dangerous for anyone, let alone asylum seekers who have no legal standing in the area.

Zammit said that aid was needed both from the financial point of view to ensure more patrolling and security and from a more legislative perspective to provide migrants with the possibility of humanitarian visas, as well as the possibility to apply for asylum procedures even from transit countries.

“Our message is that more needs to be done to ensure the safety of people’s lives. So many innocent and helpless people are losing their lives, what is it going to take for more action to be taken?”

The Church’s Emigrant’s Commission also expressed its deepest sorrows for the events that had unfolded so close to our shores.

“This situation requests more attention and action,” president of the commission Mons. Philip Calleja said adding that the commission was also planning on organising a special function was being held in collaboration with the Islamic and Orthodox community for the victims that were transported to Malta earlier today. 

“Authorities need to understand where these migrants are coming from and provide them with the necessary help and support,” Calleja said adding that the focus needs to shift on fighting the prosecution that these people are experiencing.

“A better atmosphere needs to be created to ensure that these people feel as safe as possible,” Calleja reiterated.

Chief Executive Officer of the Malta Solidarity Overseas Service, Claudia Taylor-East said that the tragedy was too sad for words.

“I am shocked at the loss of life and humanitarian tragedy and even more shocked at the lack of response. Words are cheap when they are backed with no action,” Taylor-East said adding that there was no simple solution to this phenomenon.

“Although there is no simple solution, the time has come to finally recognise that this issue is only going to grow. How many more need to die in our waters to take strong concerted action on all fronts?”

“Action is needed against the traffickers at source, assistance in countries of origin as well as on-going rescue. Europe needs to take firm action now and live up to its social obligations. Malta too needs to accept that we cannot be bystanders. We are part of the solution,” she added.

Aditus Foundation director Neil Falzon said that the foundation’s thoughts were with the families and loved ones of those who tragically lost their lives in this latest tragedy and to those few survivors that experienced the horror as events unfolded.

“We also express our solidarity with all those men and women working extremely hard to save lives and recover the corpses of the many victims in the Mediterranean,” Falzon added.

“Prevention of these tragedies cannot be postponed any longer. Safe and legal means of accessing protection must be established,” he said using the possibility of establishing humanitarian visas by the European Union as an example.

“The EU should also revisit its limitation on the right to family reunification for beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, thereby potentially saving thousands of lives and member states should further increase their annual refugee resettlement quota,” he added.

Falzon said that these human disasters should be handled in a way that respects the dignity of the victims, particularly in relation to the treatment of corpses and their belongings.

“The European Union should immediately explore the possibility of setting up of a coordinated system for the identification of bodies and archiving of personal belongings in order to bring some dignity to those who lost their lives, and some closure for their loved one.”

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees office in Malta yesterday issued a press release calling the incident ‘the biggest ever’. The statement quotes UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres: 

"This disaster confirms how urgent it is to restore a robust rescue-at-sea operation and establish credible legal avenues to reach Europe. Otherwise people seeking safety will continue to perish at sea,"

Guterres pointed out that the tragedy also pointed to the need for a comprehensive European approach to address the root causes that drive so many people to this tragic end.

“I hope the EU will rise to the occasion, fully assuming a decisive role to prevent future such tragedies," the statement reads.

 UNHCR pointed out that it has been advocating for an urgent response from the EU to deal with the challenges faced by the thousands of people risking their lives to find safety in Europe. A comprehensive set of proposals has been shared by UNHCR, including a more robust search-and-rescue operation as well as credible legal avenue to reach safety – such as resettlement, humanitarian visas, and enhanced family reunification.

Chairman of the Malta Human rights commission, Danyal Qatar said that the loss of human life was not acceptable and that in order to solve this issue we need to face issues like human trafficking first and foremeost.

"Another possible solution would be the possibility of applying for refugee status from Libya itself through European and American embassies in the country for instance. This would ensure that only those who deserve refugee status are actually given this title," Qatar added.

More in National