Updated at 9.15pm with PD statement
Representatives of 40 organisations gathered outside Castille Palace requesting a meeting with the Prime Minister to call for an end to the impasse that has left 49 migrants stranded on rescue vessels in Maltese waters.
Migrants aboard the Sea-Watch 3 and Sea Eye have been stuck in limbo for 18 days after Malta and Italy both refused to open their ports, but Malta last week allowed the vessels to enter its waters to shelter from rough seas.
The vessels' crews have reported that the situation on board has grown increasingly desperate in recent days.
The organisations gathered outside the Prime Minister’s office on Monday after receiving no response to a request to meet. Representatives said they would remain there until an answer arrived.
In a statement to the media, they said they were appalled that despite countless calls for solidarity, European member states had not managed to find a diplomatic solution to the current impasse, and called for Malta to prioritise saving lives above any other considerations.
At this point, the question we must answer is simple: what is more important, scoring political points, or saving lives?
“This is nothing short of tragic and shameful. It can only mean that we have completely lost our humanity – as a people and a union of States that supposedly upholds the values of solidarity, respect for human rights and human dignity,” Integra Foundation director Maria Pisani said on behalf of all the organisations.
Acknowledging the complex issues the situation raised, and the need for a European solution, the organisations said these issues could not be used as an excuse to abdicate the individual and national responsibility to save lives at any cost.
Watch: Pope Francis appeals for solidarity with migrants stranded off Malta
“The duty to save lives is not only a legal but also a moral imperative which can never be subjected to political conditions, such as the availability of concrete offers of relocation or the fear of creating a precedent.
“At this point, the question we must answer is simple: what is more important, scoring political points, or saving lives? For us, the undersigned organisations, there can be only one answer: people are more important.”
The statement was also delivered to a spokesman for the Prime Minister, who met briefly with representatives and said he would deliver the message and the request for a meeting.
The 40 organisations included Integra, aditus foundation, Jesuit Refugee Service Malta, Malta Emigrants’ Commission, Moviment Graffitti, Christian Life Community, Women’s Rights Foundation, Richmond Foundation, St Jeanne Antide Foundation, Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement, Migrant Women’s Association Malta, African Media Association Malta, Catholic Voices Malta, several University of Malta departments and student groups.
Put solidarity and humane treatment before all else - PD
In a statement in support of the NGOs in the evening, Partit Demokratiku saidthe migration phenomena in the central Mediterranean has been going on for two decades, yet the EU has not managed to get its act together to address this dilemma.
“This is not on for a Union that prides itself with being an actor on the global stage. Government should have taken in the vulnerable, which include women and children, as soon as the weather deteriorated, setting an example for other member states to follow,” MP Marlene Farrugia said.
Malta, she said, needed to be tough on migration given its precarious position between Africa and Europe, its size, and the Dublin II Convention, which obliged the country to house rescued refugees forever.
But, on the other, the government could not act in an inhumane manner as witnessed in the recent Sea Watch incident, which was a case of prolonged suffering in inhumane conditions for those rescued.
“Whilst the government must abide by its international obligations and cater for rescuing and disembarking migrants within its zone of responsibility, and should be praised for saving the lives of 251 migrants less than two weeks ago, Malta cannot shoulder the refuge burden alone. To be clear, it cannot take in all migrants rescued miles off Libya, because it will instigate dangerous, unsustainable, precedents,” PD leader Godfrey Farrugia said.
The only way out of this precarious situation was to continue to take the bull by the horns and address the matter in Brussels by pushing for burden sharing, but diplomacy could not take a break during Christmas, when human lives were at stake.
The Sea Watch situation was a case in point with cruel consequences.
"It seems that the valued principles on which Europe has been founded : solidarity, equity and inclusiveness have been sidelined," he said.
“Solving single incidents which emphasise the plight of migrants will not solve anything unless the EU gets its act together in Africa, especially Libya,” secretary general Martin Cauchi Inglott said.
“If elected as an MEP, rest assured that one of my priorities will be dealing with migration through Libya and at sea, ensuring emergency procedures,” he promised.
Partit Demokratiku noted that human displacement was a very sensitive and volatile subject that transcended from the political circles through all social strata to the roots of society.
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