Eleven non-governmental organisations joined forces to urge participants at the migration summit being held in Malta on Monday bring to an end a distribution of responsibilities that resulted in human suffering, injustice and violations of international and European law.

The summit is bringing together representatives of Malta, Italy,
Germany, France, Finland and the European Commission to discuss the challenges of migration.

The NGOs said a permanent system of disembarkation and relocation of asylum-seekers rescued in the Mediterranean was absolutely necessary. The current ad hoc system whereby relocation was negotiated on a ship-by-ship basis was neither humane nor sustainable.

Furthermore, it was imperative that rescued asylum-seekers were always treated in a manner that fully respected their dignity and fundamental rights. Ultimately, the present scenario risked draining cooperating states of their willingness to support Italy and Malta.

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The NGOs welcomed the active involvement of the European Asylum Support Office in these relocation exercises, reiterating the need for such exercises to be treated as European initiatives and not as bilateral political negotiations among member states outside the scope of legal and policy scrutiny.

Relocating asylum-seekers should be based on the principles enshrined in Europe’s asylum norms, including: registration and protection as asylum-seekers, appropriate provision of information, restoration of family ties, identification of and support to vulnerable persons.

“We are particularly concerned at Malta’s treatment of rescued persons in the initial reception centre and in Safi Detention Centre. We have already expressed our concerns regarding the lawfulness of the detention of those who have been detained on medical grounds for weeks on end.

“Beyond this, both centres are over-crowded and living conditions are abysmal,” they said.

The NGOs said that while they appreciated Malta’s challenges in receiving relatively large numbers of asylum-seekers in a short time, they could not endorse an approach that left people locked up for weeks, without a valid reason at law, and treated them with such disregard for their humanity.

“It is simply unacceptable that this approach is tolerated by a European Union built on values of solidarity, humanity and dignity.”

They urged participants to seek to establish a permanent relocation mechanism for asylum-seekers rescued in the Mediterranean that:

• Provided effective solidarity with Italy and Malta by ensuring the swift transfer of asylum-seekers and by providing support – including financial – towards the urgent improvement of reception conditions;

• Terminated at once the approach whereby rescued persons were only allowed to be disembarked once their relocation was secured;

• Ensured that all persons were provided with information, in a manner they understood, about their futures from the moment of their arrival and throughout the relocation procedure;

• Guaranteed that, following disembarkation, all persons were treated humanely and with respect for their dignity and fundamental human rights;

• Immediately strengthened the capacity of open reception centres, both in terms of physical space and in terms of the human resources necessary to provide all asylum seekers with the support they need to rebuild their lives.

The statement was signed by Aditus Foundation, African Media Association, Blue Door English, Integra Foundation, Jesuit Refugee Service (Malta), Malta Emigrants’ Commission, Migrant Women Association (Malta), Moviment Graffitti, Office of the Dean - Faculty of Education, SOS Malta, and Syrian Solidarity in Malta.

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