Watch the Med Alarm Phone, which runs a hotline for people in distress, released witness testimonies and video evidence suggesting that the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) endangered the lives of 101 people in distress before facilitating their arrival in Italy. NGOs and UN agencies join those held at two tourist vessels off Malta in their call for immediate disembarkation.
A group of 101 people fleeing Libya had alerted Alarm Phone as they approached Malta on May 3 but the contact could not be maintained. Survivors now report that, AFM provided them with life vests but then prevented them from moving on to Malta and used threats to make them turn around and return to Libya. Several people went overboard and their lives were further endangered by a risky manoeuvre of an AFM vessel. According to the witnesses, the AFM eventually provided gas and an engine for the boat to make it to Italy, where they arrived after another night at sea and went through a 14-day quarantine.
NGOs have released a joint statement to support the hunger strike of rescued people held on a tourist vessel off Malta to demand their disembarkation. “These young men have been exposed to too much trauma, we fear their physical and mental well-being will deteriorate fast. Malta is responsible for their ongoing detention out at sea and for the conditions they are forced to endure.” They call upon the Government “to immediately put an end to this ill-treatment, to provide them with the medical and psychological care that they urgently need, and to let them in” and “urge the EU institutions to assist Malta in finding a solution to this terrible incident.” The UN agencies for refugees and migration, UNHCR and IOM, also issued a call stating: “It is unacceptable to leave people at sea longer than necessary, especially under difficult and unsuitable conditions.“
Times of Malta reports that a third Captain Morgan ferry has been sent to replace one of the two vessels currently at sea with rescued people to provide more space for the 110 people on board. They were rescued after their dinghy drifted into Malta’s search and rescue (SAR) zone but were denied permission to disembark.
A series of voice messages obtained by the Guardian have provided confirmation of the Maltese government’s strategy to use private vessels, acting at the behest of its armed forces. Moreover, relatives of two of the twelve people who died as the result of a push-back operation in April have filed a judicial protest against the Maltese prime minister, the home affairs minister and the armed forces commander about their failure to rescue them.
After a fishing vessel rescued a group of 70 people in the Maltese SAR zone close to the Italian island Lampedusa, Italy and Malta are engaged in a stand-off over where the group should be disembarked. The rescue was coordinated by the Maltese rescue and coordination centre and the vessel was directed to disembark at the “closest, safest port”, Lampedusa. Malta and Italy both closed their ports to disembarkations due to the COVID-19 emergency.
On Friday morning, Alarm Phone was contacted by 85 people in distress close to the Libyan coast and informed the relevant authorities. The NGO also reports that a merchant vessel MAREN seems to have rescued a boat with 60 people close to the Maltese SAR zone and is waiting for further instructions.
For further information:
- ECRE, Med: 78 to quarantine on Italian Ship, 163 still Stranded amid Spike in Departures and Depleted Rescue Capacities, May 2020
- ECRE, Med: Hundreds Remain Stranded at Sea as Ports are Still Closed, Solidarity Remains Lacking and Interceptions Continue, May 2020
- ECRE, Med: Former Maltese Official Admits Push-Back while another 62 People are Left Stranded, 08 May 2020
- ECRE, Med: 180 Quarantined on Italian Ship while NGO takes Legal Actions against Maltese Decision-Makers, April 2020
- ECRE, Med: 12 Left to Die and 182 Stranded as EU States Refuse Rescue, April 2020
- ECRE, Med: 150 Stranded at Sea as Malta and Italy Declare Ports “unsafe”, April 2020
- ECRE, Med: IRINI Ships will Not Search but Rescue – Civilian Search and Rescue Vessel Back at Sea, April 2020
- ECRE, Med: EU Naval Arms Embargo Mission Jeopardised Over Migration Concerns, Cyprus Turns Away Syrian Nationals, March 2020
- ECRE, Med: Search and Rescue Operations Under Pressure from COVID-19, Interceptions and Return to Libya Continue, March 2020
- ECRE, Interview: WatchTheMed Alarm Phone: A Response for Rescue and a Call for Change,February 2020
- ECRE, Med: Death Toll Mounting, NGOs Rescue, Returns to Libya Continue,February 2020
- ECRE, Med: People Returned, Rescued and Gone Missing, 20 February 2020
- ECRE, Med: Disembarkations in Italy, Rescues by Malta, Court release NGO Vessel, 14 February 2020
- ECRE, Med: NGOs Rescue Almost 1000 people – Pull-backs to Libya continue, January 2020
- ECRE, Mediterranean: Rescue Operation and Hope for Sophia’s Ships, January 2020
- ECRE, Safe Ports in Italy for 237 People but 1000 Returned to Detention in Libya, January 2020
- ECRE, Appeal Court Clears Lifeline Captain of all Charges – NGOs Continue to Rescue, January 2020
- ECRE, Operation Sophia: Ships Remain Suspended while Support of Libyan ‘Coast Guard’ Continues, September 2019
- ECRE, Last Breath of Operation Sophia Should Push Coalition of the Willing, March 2019
- ECRE, A Contingency Plan for Disembarkation and Relocation, January 2019
- ECRE, Med: Deaths, Returns, Rescues and Hope for Justice, December 2019
- ECRE, EU Praise of Libyan Coast Guard out of Touch with Reality, September 2020
Photo: (CC) Sludge G, February 2011