The Malta Independent 1 October 2023, Sunday
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Watch: EU must back humanitarian efforts in migration

Malta Independent Friday, 6 December 2013, 10:00 Last update: about 10 years ago

Solidarity measures from the EU must back efforts from countries experiencing migration flows to ensure that the saving of lives at sea is always the first priority of any interception or rescue mission, and that people rescued are not returned to a place where they might face human rights violations, says a new report.

The national report, ‘Access to Protection: A Human Right’, drawn up by Dr Jean-Pierre Gauci and Dr Patricia Mallia, two experts on maritime migration who form part of the People For Change Foundation (PFC) and presented to Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties, Helena Dalli, this morning.

The project dealt with the human rights dimensions of push backs under Maltese and International Law and dealt in particular with the implications of incidents over summer.

Financed by the Network of European Foundations in the frame of the European Programme for Integration and Migration (EPIM), the project’s main objective is to bring national and European policies and practices in line with the obligations set out by the European instruments on human rights. It focuses on the access to the territory and to protection and the standards outlined by the European Court of Human Rights in the Hirsi case.

The project aims at attaining a “cultural change”; a shift from a perspective that focuses mainly on security and on combatting irregular immigration flows to an approach which balances these exigencies with respect for human rights. In particular, PFC highlights the principle of non-refoulement – the expulsion of persons who have the right to be recognised as refugees - and the access to protection, through the adoption, if it is necessary, of specific amendments to national and European legislation policies and practices.

The project intends to promote an enhancement of practices at the borders and more systematic training on human rights and refugee law, addressed to authorities, in particular border guards. Moreover, it has the purpose of fostering the full access of the UNHCR and other organizations to potential international protection seekers.


Salient recommendations to Maltese Government:

Consistently respect the principle of non-refoulement, as applicable regardless of the classification of the particular act, in line with Malta’s international legal obligations. 

Ensure that the saving of lives at sea is always the first and main priority of any interception or rescue mission, and that persons rescued are not returned to a place where they might face human rights violations including torture and cruel and inhumane treatment and punishment.  

Clarify that ‘a place of safety’ refers not only to the physical safety of the individual but must also be such a place where his/her human rights are protected and there is an effective opportunity to seek international protection.

Raise awareness amongst its various branches, including those directly involved in immigration control of the various legal and policy implications of the Hirsi judgments including the positive obligations it identifies.

Ensure that respect for human rights, including the rights of non-nationals, is a priority in its negotiations with the Libyan government and authorities.



Suggestions to the EU:

Ensure any designation of a specific place of safety as the location of disembarkation be coupled with solidarity measures in place in order to assist the State of disembarkation in the attendant responsibilities which consequently become incumbent upon it.

Ensure that any legal and policy developments at the European level abide by the principles set out in the Hirsi judgment and fully respect human rights.

Ensure that its own agencies, including Frontex, do not engage in actions in violation of the principle of non-refoulement, and that European Union funds are not utilized to support measures that contravene States’ obligations in this regard.

Encourage the development of solidarity arrangements between various EU Member States in terms of the disembarkation of persons rescued at sea.

Ensure that human rights considerations are a primary focus of any negotiations with third countries in the context of migration management.

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