NGOs call on Malta to disembark stranded migrants in the face of EU’s ‘callous disregard for human life’

23 NGOs are calling on the Maltese government to take the migrants in irrespective of whether the country is legally responsible to do so

More than 350 rescued migrants are currently stranded on board the Ocean Viking
More than 350 rescued migrants are currently stranded on board the Ocean Viking

Malta should intervene and offer a safe port of disembarkation to migrants currently stranded on board NGO-operated rescue vessels, 23 NGOs said on Friday.

Some 350 migrants are currently waiting on board the Ocean Viking rescue vessel, which is operated by Doctors Without Borders and the NGO SOS Mediterranee, after having been rescued earlier in the week.

“As Malta swelters in the summer heat, over 350 men, women and children are out at sea, stranded aboard rescue vessels waiting to be allowed to land,” the NGOs said.  

They added that despite repeated requests to Italy and Malta for a safe port, to date neither member state has allowed disembarkation and none of the member states of the EU have stepped in to offer refuge to those on board.

“As days turn into weeks and EU member states continue to drag their feet, conditions on board the two ships worsen and people’s life and safety are compromised.”

The NGOs said that “in the face of this callous disregard for human life” they were urging Malta to “once again lead by example and to allow the people stranded on board the rescue vessels to disembark in Malta.

This should be done irrespective of whether Malta was legally responsible for their disembarkation in terms of international law.

They said it was unacceptable to argue that the migrants should be returned to Libya, where they risk imprisonment in inhuman conditions, torture, rape and slavery. “Libya cannot be considered a safe port by any definition, so it is imperative that another solution is found for the rescued migrants.”

“It is equally objectionable to imply that any state is somehow justified in refusing to allow the disembarkation of people rescued by NGOs. International maritime law is clear: the priority is to save lives and to ensure disembarkation in a place of safety, regardless of who conducted the rescue. Saving lives is therefore a legal obligation, and under no circumstances can it be considered wrong or – at worst – a crime,” the NGOs said.

member states, have a legal obligation to offer refuge to people fleeing persecution, the NGO said, adding that Europe closing its doors to such people was “beyond reprehensible”.

The Ocean Viking was situated to the north-west of Malta on Friday afternoon
The Ocean Viking was situated to the north-west of Malta on Friday afternoon

Finally, they added that it was clear that countries like Malta, Italy and Greece could not and should not be left to deal with this “European challenge” alone.

Furthermore, it is amply clear that the member states at the external borders of Europe, like Malta, Italy and Greece, cannot and should not be left to deal with this European challenge alone.

European Union institutions and member states, the NGOs said, need to take collective responsibility for the “tragedy unfolding on Europe’s doorstep” and to take concrete steps to ensure that, wherever they are disembarked, people are received in conditions of dignity.

The NGOs that signed the statement are:

aditus foundation, African Media Association Malta, Allied Rainbow Communities, Anti-Poverty Forum Malta, Caritas Malta, The Critical Institute, Drachma LGBTI, Drachma Parents Group, Integra Foundation, Isles of the Left, Jesuit Refugee Service, Kopin, LGBTI+ Gozo, Malta Emigrants’ Commission, Maltese Association of Psychiatry, Men Against Violence, MGRM-Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement, Moviment Graffitti, OASI Foundation, Office of the Dean – Faculty of Education University of Malta, People for Change Foundation, Richmond Foundation, SOS Malta, SPARK 15.