A rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said last night that her visit to Malta this week had been useful to piece together more pieces of the puzzle in the case of a migrants' boat which was 'ignored' by the authorities of a number of countries.

"This visit to Malta was important for my inquiry into who is responsible for lives lost in the Mediterranean Sea, and enabled me to piece together another part of the puzzle in the case of the 'left-to-die boat'", said Tineke Strik.

The visit to Malta focused on an incident reported in March-April this year, when 63 boat people fleeing Libya 'were left to die' after their appeals for rescue had allegedly been ignored.

"Having already visited Italy and spoken with officials from NATO, it was indispensable also to learn how Malta acted in this case," said the rapporteur. "Nonetheless, the puzzle remains incomplete. Gaps remain and important questions still need to be answered. As time is precious in this kind of inquiry, I very much count on national authorities, NATO and the EU to provide me swiftly with the information I have requested."

"The on-going war in Libya at that time made it difficult to establish who was responsible for co-ordinating search and rescue operations at sea, but it was clear to everyone that the Libyan authorities were not in a position to undertake search and rescue in practice," she said. "There should be no gaps in the division of responsibility in practice, and yet that is exactly what seems to have happened here."

"Besides, the on-going dispute between Italy and Malta on their respective responsibility with regard to the disembarkation of boat people rescued at sea remains a cause of serious concern," she said.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe  in June launched an inquiry into who is responsible for the more than 1,000 “boat people” thought to have perished in the Mediterranean since January 2011 while trying to reach European soil from North Africa.

Following a request for an inquiry signed by 34 members of the Assembly, PACE’s Migration Committee appointed Mrs Strik (Netherlands) to prepare a report on “Lives lost in the Mediterranean sea: who is responsible?”.

“There have been allegations that migrants and refugees are dying after their appeals for rescue have been ignored,” said Mrs Strik at the time. “Such a grave allegation must be urgently investigated.”

“I intend to look into the manner in which these boats are intercepted – or not – by the different national coastguards, the EU’s border agency FRONTEX, or even military vessels. I also intend to speak to witnesses directly involved in reported incidents, and put questions to national authorities, the UNHCR, FRONTEX and NATO, among others.”

On 8 May, the Guardian newspaper reported that 61 boat people escaping from Libya had died after their appeals for rescue had been ignored by armed forces operating in the Mediterranean. The following day PACE President Mevlüt Çavusoglu called for “an immediate and comprehensive enquiry” into the incident.

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