Does latest landing mark end of quiet period?

A group of 28 Somali illegal migrants, including six women landed in St Thomas Bay in the early hours of yesterday, making them the first such arrivals in almost two months.

The group were on a 13-foot fibreglass boat powered by an outboard motor. They entered the bay in Marsascala on their own steam at 3 a.m.

People who witnessed the landing contacted the police and the migrants were taken to Ta' Kandja detention centre.

The police later said the migrants were in good health and had ample supplies of food and water aboard the boat.

The group is the first to arrive after a two-month lull. In mid-May a group of 66 migrants had landed in Gozo but, contrary to what has been the norm in recent years, no migrant landings were recorded in June.

Talking to The Sunday Times in June, the commander of the Armed Forces of Malta, Brigadier Carmel Vassallo and the spokesman for United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Laura Boldrini could not give an explanation for the lull in immigrant crossings.

Even though the number of African migrant arrivals up to the end of June, 890, was similar to last year's number, the anticipated influx at the start of summer had not yet happened despite good weather conditions.

Analysts believe that, in June, Libya stepped up its enforcement to curb the departure of migrants from its coastline in line with a friendship agreement it signed with Italy.

This happened at the same time that Italy embarked on its new policy to immediately send back to Libya those rescued at sea.

The UNHCR yesterday criticised Italy's policy of forced repatriation and accused the navy of sending back 89 migrants rescued on July 1 without giving them the chance to ask for asylum.

The majority hailed from Eritrea and the group included women and children.

The UNHCR said that, on their return to Libya, the migrants were locked up in detention centres. The agency said that interviews with the migrants indicated that Italian military officials did not even bother to ask them for their nationality and left them for 12 hours on the ship without food or water.

The UNHCR also accused the Italian navy personnel of using "force" to transfer the migrants to a Libyan frigate.

It is too early to say whether the latest landing in Malta signals the end of the quiet period but it is a reminder that the human tragedy of people in search of a better life in Europe has not gone away.

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