The government's controversial measures to stop humanitarian vessels from using its ports raise “serious doubts about the State’s abidance to human rights obligations”, Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatović told Times of Malta.
The government last week stopped a humanitarian search and rescue flight from Malta. The country’s ports were also closed to ships carrying migrants that were operated by NGO missions.
"States have the right to take decisions concerning immigration, but they also have legal and moral obligations to help those in need of protection and health care,” Ms Mijatović said.
"Blocking access to territory may contravene these obligations and prolong the suffering of many human beings."
Closing ports and refusing entry to rescue vessels with migrants was an “ill-advised decision”, which raised concerns that Malta might not be meeting obligations under international human rights law, the Human Rights Commissioner added.
She also said that Malta should improve its cooperation with NGOs to ensure maximum rescue operations, instead of preventing them.
The Human Rights Commissioner weighed in on the arraignment of the captain of MV Lifeline.
The captain was charged with steering an unregistered boat in Maltese territorial waters without the necessary registration and licence.
“States should avoid adopting measures that may put shipmasters in front of the dilemma between violating orders to save human lives and obeying orders that can put people’s lives at risk,” Ms Mijatović said.
A human life is more valuable that any political consideration
“A human life is more valuable that any political consideration.”
Faced with humanitarian crises such as the MV Aquarius and the MV Lifeline, Malta should “help a safe disembarkation of people from the boats, assess their protection and health care needs and accommodate in humane conditions,” Ms Mijatović said.
“States should also ensure that those who receive asylum or cannot be sent back to their country of origin, have integration opportunities. Moreover, countries should also avoid detaining migrants and asylum seekers on immigration grounds.”
Detention for immigration purposes should always be a measure of last resort, and never concern children and their families, Ms Mijatović said.
“Malta, as any other European State, has obligations to rescue people, ensure safe disembarkation, effective processing of asylum applications and avoid keeping migrants in detention for immigration purposes,” the Human Rights Commissioner said.
Asked for its reaction to Ms Mijatović’s comments, a government spokesman insisted that Malta always abided by its international obligations on search and rescue.
“One hopes that the commissioner can assist effectively by actively lobbying and encouraging members of the Council of Europe to take part in responsibility sharing mechanisms with countries seriously affected by migration,” he said.
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