The authorities’ decision to charge three young migrants with terrorism in a bizarre case earlier this year is excessive and inhumane, a group of NGOs said.

In a statement, they called on the authorities to withdraw the charges and release the three young persons, whose only role aboard the El Hiblu I vessel was that of translators and mediators.

They acted in this manner to save their lives and that of other migrants aboard the vessel, which arrived in Malta on March 28, the NGOs said. 

The accused were 15, 16 and 19 years old at the time of arrest. Two are still minors and the third barely an adult.

While trying to flee Libya, the group was rescued from a deflating dinghy by the commercial vessel El Hiblu 1, which was en route from Istanbul to Tripoli.

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After promising to get the migrants to safety in Europe, the captain of the vessel locked himself in the cabin during the night, and changed route towards Libya. As the migrants realised what was happening, they protested, with some threatening to commit suicide to avoid going back to Libya.

The captain then decided to steer the vessel north, towards Europe. As a sign of trust, he asked the three young migrants to stay with him in the cabin to make sure they were going north and thus, calm the other migrants who were desperately protesting outside the cabin.

The three young migrants did not threaten or injure the captain, nor commit any act of terrorism, and no crew members were hurt. 

The organisations pointed out that international and EU laws prohibit the forced return of migrants to places where they can be persecuted and Libyan ports are not deemed as safe ports. These ports are known for the atrocities that take place including rape, exploitation, starvation, murder and trafficking of such migrants.

The three young migrants saved the lives of 105 abused men, women and children and they were being charged with terrorism, an offence that carries a potential life sentence, instead of acknowledging their action as a legitimate and desperate act of defence. 

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“We, therefore, urge the authorities to drop these charges and ensure the well-being of these three youngsters by transferring them to Open Centres as soon as possible so that they will be able to start a new life in peace and safety,” the organisations said.

The statement was signed by African Media Association, Alleanza Kontra l-Faqar, CCIF, Integra Foundation, Isles of the Left, JRS, Kopin, Emigrants’ Commission, MGRM, Moviment Graffitti, Office of the Dean - Faculty of Education, Office of the Dean - Faculty for Social Wellbeing, SOS, SPARK15, and Studenti Ħarsien Soċjali.

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