Activists gathered outside the law courts in Valletta on Saturday calling on the Maltese government to allow migrant rescue vessels to carry out their work and save people from drowning.

Protesters laid out lifejackets to form the number 628, the number of people known to have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean in June, and unveiled a banner reading “Europe Kills”.

The protest was held alongside similar events in 13 German cities, in response to the Maltese government’s decision to close its ports to rescue ships, and to stop operations of vessels and search planes based on the island.

“While these ships have been stranded in port, June has been the deadliest month in the Mediterranean since records were first kept,” Carola Rackete, one of the organisers told those gathered.

Richard Brenner, part of the crew of the MV Lifeline, which entered Malta last week carrying 234 migrants after six days stranded at sea, said the organisation was being scapegoated in an effort to intensify the ‘Fortress Europe’ mentality.

Read: Rescue ship Lifeline docks, most migrants claim to have escaped torture in Libya

“Sea rescue can never be a crime,” Mr Brenner said. “Fleeing your home can never be a crime. The crimes have been committed by states and large corporations whose actions are forcing people to leave their homes. Europe is neglecting its responsibilities and, worse, turning it around and saying it is rescue vessels that are breaching international laws.”

Maria Drenk from Sea Watch, whose search plane Moonbird has been grounded, said the government’s decision meant there would be no witness to what happened at sea.

Read: Malta blocks humanitarian aircraft

She said the aircraft had been involved in the rescue of some 20,000 last year, and had also witnessed breaches of law by the Libyan coastguard and instances of non-assistance by the Italian navy.

“In an attempt to stop migration, European authorities are willing to accept that thousands of people will die,” Ms Drenk said. “We demand the immediate release of our assets. We want to resume search and rescue immediately. We want to stop the dying.”

The statements were made after hecklers confronted NGO protesters outside court after they put a life vest on Guido de Marco's statue.

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