Yesterday and this morning 4 overcrowded vessels were rescued at sea by Italy and Malta. As a result of cooperation between the Armed Forces of Malta and the Italian Coast Guard almost 800 people have been brought to safety, some requiring urgent medical attention. Those in need of international protection will now have the opportunity to have their asylum claims assessed. UNHCR Malta commends all entities and individuals involved in this effort.
The situation of asylum seekers in Libya remains an issue of grave concern. Recent reports describe a context of lawlessness and impunity, where foreign nationals from sub-Saharan Africa are at constant risk of exploitation, arrest and indefinite detention.
“In this situation it is evident that forced return or push-back of asylum seekers to Libya is not an option, as this would constitute a breach of international law," Jon Hoisaeter, Representative at the UNHCR Malta office said.
Meanwhile work continues in Malta to facilitate longer term solutions. UNHCR considers that a combination of solutions will continue to be required – including local integration, resettlement/relocation and return for those who are not in need of international protection. So far in 2013, around 600 asylum seekers have arrived in Malta, while almost 200 beneficiaries of protection have been assisted to settle in the US and other countries offering support, which is unique in the EU context.
The number of arrivals in Malta in 2013 is lower when compared with the same period last year. Nevertheless, while the country has managed to establish an effective asylum procedure, the irregular arrival of asylum seekers continues to present significant challenges for Malta.
UNHCR intends to continue to work closely with the authorities and other partners to improve the situation both as regards the immediate reception arrangements and the achievement of long term solutions. We stand ready to support further steps by the new Government to address and manage the situation in a comprehensive manner.