The authorities are being asked to clarify the circumstances surrounding the return of a group of asylum seekers in Malta’s waters to war-torn Libya on Saturday, which if confirmed would constitute human rights violations.
On Monday, the NGO Mediterranea Saving Humans sent a letter to Prime Minister Robert Abela asking him “to shed light on the facts” leading to the recapture and violent treatment of the migrants by the Libyan Coast-Guard.
On Saturday, Times of Malta reported that 49 asylum seekers, including a pregnant woman and three children, in Malta’s Search and Rescue zone were in urgent need of rescuing and that the Armed Forces was refusing to disclose information on the matter.
The Maltese authorities were subsequently accused by NGO Alarmphone of coordinating an illegal pushback along with Frontex, which led to survivors being brutally beaten up at sea and upon their return to Libya.
“On Sunday we were called by relatives of the people on board who told us that the people in distress had been abducted by a Libyan vessel from within the Maltese SAR zone and returned to Libya, where, according to their testimonies, they were imprisoned and battered,” read a statement by the NGO.
🔶PRESS RELEASE: RCC #Malta coordinated an illegal push-back operation from the Maltese #SAR zone to #Libya in cooperation with #EU border agency #Frontex! #Italy’s MRCC was informed. Survivors were brutally beaten upon their return to the Libyan warzone! https://t.co/Dk5BRD5A03— Alarm Phone (@alarm_phone) March 16, 2020
This act was in open violation of the Geneva Convention on refugee status of 1951, which prohibits any form of refoulement or pushback to places where individuals might be at risk of death or inhuman and degrading treatment,” wrote the president of Mediterranea Saving Humans Alessandra Sciurba to the Maltese authorities on Monday.
It was also in breach of the Hamburg Convention, which requires signatories to guarantee a place of safety to the people rescued at sea, she added.
The Maltese government has since sent an email saying it had received the letter and it had been forwarded to the relevant ministries, according to a spokesperson of the NGO.
In direct reference to the issue, a United Nations agency tweeted a reminder to states that saving lives must remain the number one priority.
“The states have a legal and moral responsibility to respond to distress cases at sea,” tweeted the International Organisation for Migration.
🚨 Some 49 migrants were returned to Libya yesterday from Maltese waters.— IOM - UN Migration 🌎 (@UNmigration) March 16, 2020
We remind states that saving lives must remain the number one priority and that they have a legal and moral responsibility to respond to distress cases at sea.
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