The Malta Independent 25 September 2020, Friday

Updated: Migrants rescued, to be kept on private vessel off Maltese coast

Neil Camilleri & Rebekah Cilia Thursday, 30 April 2020, 11:27 Last update: about 6 months ago

Malta has coordinated the rescue of a group of migrants in distress, but the 57 men that were on board will not be allowed into Malta. Instead, they will be held on a private vessel 13 miles off the Maltese coast, where they will be provided with food and medical care, government sources said.

Earlier, migrant NGO Alarm Phone said it had received no further information about the migrant vessel. The group said the Maltese fishing trawler Dar Al Salam 1 was sailing towards the vessel.

This newsroom has now been informed that the Maltese ship was asked to intervene since all AFM resources are committed on the Covid-19 emergency. In an operation coordinated by Maltese authorities, the boat picked up the migrants from the Maltese SAR area and has now transferred them to another private vessel that is anchored off the coast of Malta.

The government recently declared that all ports are closed due to the Covid-19 emergency.

Government sources said that, while Malta had rescued the migrants, it cannot take them in. In view of this, arrangements were made with a private company to keep the migrants on one of its vessels off the Maltese coastline. The migrants - all men - are in a good state of health.

It is understood that the Maltese government has written to the European Commission and to each EU Member State individually asking them to help.

The Maltese government said its position is clear. "Our ports are closed, and the EU now needs to show solidarity and shoulder the responsibility for these migrants. On Wednesday, Malta launched official contacts with the European Commission and all Member States so that these migrants can be permanently relocated. The EU is facing a serious crisis due to human trafficking, and Malta on its own is not in a position to do more."

On Thursday morning, 28 Maltese NGOs demanded information about the fate of the migrants, saying that they had been stranded for over 24 hours in Malta's search and rescue area, "yet nothing is known of actions taken to ensure their safety."

The groups said they were "particularly appalled" that the Government has made no attempt to explain its relationship with the private fishing vessel returning migrants to atrocities in Libya.

They insisted that returning migrants to Libya is a clear and unequivocal breach of international law. Attempting to circumvent these obligations through the engagement of a private vessel would in no way absolve Malta of its legal and moral responsibilities, they said.

They also called on the government to clarify its relationship with the owner of the Dar al Salam 1, in particular whether it instructed, requested or in any way cooperated with the owner to secure the return to Libya of at least one group of migrants.

They also referred to the revelation that controversial figure Neville Gafa, has said under oath, said that he was asked by the Office of the Prime Minister for help in coordinating the pushback of illegal immigrants who had left Libya and were en-route to Malta.

The NGOs said it is "imperative for the Government to disclose details of all Mr. Gafá's activities in relation to illegal pushbacks to Libya."

 


 

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