A group of people met at Senglea on Sunday to remember the thousands of people who died while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea while urging the local authorities to stop pushing migrants to Libya.

The central Mediterranean route sees people crossing from Tunisia and Libya to Malta and Italy.

The International Organisation for Migration’s Missing Migrants Project database shows that at least 3,041 people died crossing it in 2023, making it one of the deadliest years on record.

And, according to UNICEF, 11 children die every week along this route.

On Sunday, survivor Nagmeldeen Arbab, from the Spark 15, remembered those who embarked on the same journey but never made it to safety, and their "dreams that never came true".

"I know the water that they faced, the fear that gripped their soul and the hope that flickers with every wave. Their stories, struggles and sacrifices must never be forgotten," he told a crowd gathered for the yearly Baħar Ċimiterju.

"Let's please keep their memories alive by educating and working tirelessly so no one is forced to flee to safety and a future where compassion and solidarity prevail over fear and indifference... Let's build a future where we are all human and not just a number," he told the crowd.

Those at the Gardjola Gardens - including Abbas Musa, from the Sudanese Community Organisation - remember the thousands who die at sea. Photo: Matthew MirabelliThose at the Gardjola Gardens - including Abbas Musa, from the Sudanese Community Organisation - remember the thousands who die at sea. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Abbas Musa, from the Sudanese Community Organisation, urged for safe means of travel for those seeking asylum.

He noted that apart from the many who died at sea and left behind an empty boat that made it to shore, several died crossing the Sahara and no one knew they had perished.

Lecturer Louise Chircop. Video: Matthew Mirabelli

Lecturer Louise Chirchop told those present that politicians considered people who died at sea as "collateral damage: they are left to suffer the consequences of their actions as a deterrent to others".

She said the widespread indifference, including by the media, treated dead migrants as "discarded human waste".

Chirchop expressed worry over the silence of European citizens.

"This killing is being carried out in our name... We have been silent for far too long and our silence is taken to mean that we agree with this. I don't want to be an accomplice," Chircop said.

The lecturer added that the politicians' narrative was helping increase racist sentiment.

25 organisations participated in Baħar Ċimiterju. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli25 organisations participated in Baħar Ċimiterju. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Those who made it to the Gardjola Gardens on Sunday morning included migrants, asylum seekers, academics, activists and members of 25 organisations who are all calling on the authorities to prevent further human rights violations and deaths in the Mediterranean.

They lay white paper boats on a blue cloth in front of them, and carried banners that read "Armed Forces of Malta doesn't have children", "Kif torqdu bil-lejl bil-mewt fuq l-idejn?" (How can you sleep at night when you have death on your hands?), "It could have been your children", and "Demmhom fuq idejna" (Their blood on our hands).

In a joint statement, they said the Mediterranean remained one of the deadliest borders in the world, with tens of thousands of people dying or going missing while attempting to cross it.

"The Maltese authorities, alongside the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, continue to contribute to these deaths by playing politics with people’s lives at sea, delaying rescue, and using their platforms to espouse the rhetoric of being hard on migrants. These policies undermine our values, spread fear and hatred and endanger the lives of innocent people," they said.

They denounced the Maltese authorities' collaboration with quasi-legal entities such as the Libyan Coast Guard and militias to have people forcibly returned from within the island's search-and-rescue zone to Libya.

"In 2023, the authorities began providing coordinates of vessels in distress in Malta’s search and rescue zone to the Tariq Bin Zayed Brigade, a Libyan militia with a well-documented track record of human rights violations.

"Consequently, hundreds of people, many of them children, were intercepted in our waters and forced back to detention and degradation in Libya.

"These actions amount to a violation of the legal principle of non-refoulement, enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights which prohibits the transfer of anyone to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture or other serious harm."

An attendee carrying banner reading: 'There's no us and them'. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli.An attendee carrying banner reading: 'There's no us and them'. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli.

The organisations are calling on the Maltese authorities to:

  • Conduct and coordinate timely rescue of people in distress in Malta's search-and-rescue zone
  • Enact policies and espouse rhetoric that upholds the value of all human life
  • Immediately end the policy of coordinating pushbacks from Malta’s search-and-rescue zone
  • Cease support for and collaboration with actors that violate human rights, such as the Libyan Coast Guard and the Tariq Bin Zayed Brigade
  • Stop criminalising humanitarian rescue organisations and start coordinating with them to save lives at sea

The 25 organisations are aditus foundation, African Media Association, Azzjoni Kattolika Maltija, Blue Door Education, Caritas Malta, Dance Beyond Borders, Humanists Malta, Jesuit Refugee Service Malta, Kopin, Malta LGBTIQ+ Rights Movement - MGRM, Men Against Violence, Migrant Women Association Malta, Moviment Graffitti, Office of the Dean – Faculty of Education UOM, Repubblika, SAR Malta Network, Segretarjat Assistenza Socjali (AKM), SPARK15, The Gender And Sexualities Department - University of Malta, The Justice and Peace Commission, The Migrants Commission, The People for Change Foundation, Women’s Rights Foundation, Young Progressive Beings and YMCA Malta.

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