Cooperating with the Libyan government over migration makes Malta complicit in the violation of human rights in the north African country, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Europe has warned.

Speaking ahead of World Human Rights Day today, Nils Muižnieks told Times of Malta that no one should be returned to Libya.

There were very serious, well documented human rights violations and Europe had a responsibility to refrain from pushing people there or paying Libya to pull people back.

“We have to be very careful in how we cooperate with the Libyan government so that we don’t become complicit in the human rights violations perpetrated there,” Muižnieks, the former Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, said.

“Right now, the EU, Italy and Malta are complicit... we are turning a blind eye to the violations taking place in Libya and incentivising the country to disembark people who are then put in horrendous conditions.”

Last month, Foreign Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo said that cooperation between Malta and Libya had prevented a “huge crisis” as 7,000 people seeking asylum in Europe were stopped from landing here.

We are turning a blind eye to the violations taking place in Libya

Muižnieks urged “extreme caution”, saying it was “highly problematic” to cooperate with Libya by giving it money, assistance, boats and informing it about vessels carrying migrants.

He also expressed concern over Malta’s “outsourcing of pushback to private carriers” and about delayed disembarkation of asylum seekers.

In May, Prime Minister Robert Abela commissioned a boat that returned migrants to war-torn Libya on Easter weekend but he insisted it was a rescue mission and not a pushback.  

Over the past months, several migrants were left out at sea for weeks on tourist boats or rescue vessels before being allowed to disembark.

“Punishing people in the hope of deterring migration had not worked anywhere in Europe and it certainly would not work in Malta,” Muižnieks said.

“Refusing disembarkation is not doing anything to deter people from coming but is just increasing human suffering... Malta can do better.”

Europe needed to implement safe and legal venues, including temporary work permits... and Europe needed migrant workers, he added.

He acknowledged that the pressure on frontline countries was unsustainable and there needed to be more European solidarity and cooperation.

However, he believes that Brussels’ proposed migration pact rested on “the same old failed policy of deterrence”.  

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