Shoes of all sizes were laid at the Valletta shore on Sunday, a tribute to the thousands who perished trying to cross the Mediterranean, as 47 organisations called out Malta’s “murderous policy”.
More than 1,300 men, women, children, sons, and daughters died or disappeared in the Central Mediterranean last year, while over 25,000 people perished since 2014, Dursa Mama said on behalf of activists, academics, authors, journalists and social workers who endorsed the memorial.
“The Maltese government’s continued failure to uphold its search and rescue responsibilities contributes to this death toll by putting lives at risk,” Dursa said, adding that, in 2022, local authorities ignored more than 20,000 people in distress.
Some 413 boats in distress in Malta’s SAR zone were not assisted, and only three boats were rescued by the AFM, he added.
“People in distress in our SAR zone must be rescued without delay. Despite Minister Byron Camilleri's claim of ‘defending our realm’, government decisions to delay and avoid rescue lead directly to the loss of life at sea.
“Four-year-old Loujin died of thirst in September 2022 after days of being in distress in Malta’s SAR zone. Her death makes clear the consequences of our government’s actions. The murderous policy adopted by the Maltese authorities must be reversed.”
Dursa was speaking at an event on the occasion of the "Global Day of CommemorAction for the Dead, Missing, Persecuted and Forcefully Disappeared at Sea and at the Border", marked locally as Baħar Ċimiterju.
He noted that last year, over 24,000 people were pushed back to Libya after being intercepted at sea, something that has been widely condemned for violating international law and the principle of nonrefoulement.
Returned migrants reportedly face torture, rape, and death there.
“Yet, on multiple occasions, Maltese authorities have allowed the Libyan coast guard or instructed private vessels to return people to Libya from Malta’s search and rescue zone. Malta's actions result in the abuse, exploitation, and death of thousands of people, including children,” Dursa added.
'Politicians’ statements encourage racism and further violence'
The organisers of the event also slammed the government’s “divisive rhetoric and practices” that they said reinforced the violence experiences at sea.
Raids on asylum seekers' homes and politicians’ statements encourage racism and further violence, they said.
They called on the government to reassess its approach towards migration and engage with those dedicated to supporting migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees.
Until then, Malta will continue to be responsible for causing harm to those seeking a better life, they warned.
'We have lost lives because of the word 'illegal'
Among those who addressed the event, Yambio David Oliver, from Refugees in Libya, said he was on the move since turning two months.
For 25 years his family moved from one African country to another in search of a better future, until it reached Libya.
There, he said, he heard for the first time the word "illegal".
"A word which is against the way of living, against human value... a word that human beings should not be using to refer to other human beings.
"But this word came from the other side of the Mediterranean, from the European authorities and western politics.
"We have suffered, we have lost lives because of this word. No one is illegal, as we all have the same human value."
The organisations endorsing this event are aditus, African Media Association Malta, Alleanza Kontra l-Faqar, Allied Rainbow Communities, Black Lives Matter Malta, Blue Door Education, Caritas Malta, Christian Life Community, Dance Beyond Borders, Dar Hosea, Dar tal-Providenza, Faculty of Education (University of Malta), Fondazzjoni Sebħ, Free El Hiblu 3, Humanists Malta, Integra Foundation, Jesuit Refugee Service Malta, Kopin Malta, LGBTI+ Gozo, Malta House of Prayer, Men Against Violence, MGRM, Migrant Women Association Malta, Migrants Commission, Moviment Graffitti, Peace and Good Foundation, PeaceLab, PEN Malta, president emeritus Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, Repubblika, SAR Malta Network, Segretarjat Assistenza Soċjali tal-AKM, SOS Malta, SPARK15, St Jeanne Antide Foundation, Sudanese community, the Association for Justice, Equality and Peace, the Critical Institute, the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, the Good Shepherd Sisters - Dar Merhba Bik Foundation, the Justice and Peace Commission, the Malta Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society, the Maltese Association of Social Workers, the Paulo Freire Institute Foundation, the People for Change Foundation, Women's Rights Foundation and YMCA.