Malta denounced for 'helping' Libyan coastguard intercept migrants and returning them to Libya

The captain of NGO vessel Mare Jonio says a Maltese military aircraft guided the Libyan coastguard to a migrant boat heading towards Lampedusa in what has been described as a breach of human rights

The Libyan coastguard is understood to have intercepted two migrant vessels with some 170 people on board over the past 24 hours (Photo: Libyan coastguard)
The Libyan coastguard is understood to have intercepted two migrant vessels with some 170 people on board over the past 24 hours (Photo: Libyan coastguard)

Malta stands accused by NGO vessel Mare Jonio of helping the Libyan coastguard locate and pick up some 100 migrants out at sea for return to Libya.

The migrants appear to have been intercepted by the Libyan coastguard some 15 nautical miles away from Malta’s search and rescue with the help of a Maltese military aircraft. The boat was heading towards Lampedusa.

It was the Mare Jonio’s captain who raised the alarm, accusing the Maltese authorities of ‘repatriating’ the migrants to an unsafe port in Libya.

Beppe Caccia, head of mission on Mare Jonio, a vessel belonging to NGO group Mediterranea, was quoted by Italian news outlet La Repubblica saying that it was a Maltese military plane that guided the Libyan coastguard vessel to the migrant boat.

The Mare Jonio had informed the rescue coordination centre in Rome it was ready to intervene but told to stay out because the Libyan navy was on its way.

“We denounce this repatriation to an unsafe port, where human rights are not respected… this was a grave violation of human rights and international conventions,” Caccia said.

Mediterranea has called for "humanitarian corridors" to be created that would allow migrants escaping war and oppression to reach Europe safely.

This appears to have been the second migrant boat rescued by the Libyan coastguard in the space of a few hours.

On its Twitter feed, the Libyan coast guard said it rescued some 170 migrants on two boats.

Libya is currently gripped in civil strife after the forces of General Khalifa Haftar laid siege on the capital Tripoli. Fighting has displaced thousands of Libyans and forced the United Nations to relocate migrants held in detention centres in the capital.

The UN does not consider Libya a safe haven and has warned against sending migrants back to the country where they risk abuse and degrading treatment.

Malta and Italy have insisted over the past 18 months that the Libyan coastguard should be allowed to do its job within their area of competence, a position that has been heavily criticised by private rescue NGOs and human rights organisations.

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