The Malta Independent 30 May 2020, Saturday

AFM 'attempted pushback', before giving migrants new engine, fuel to reach Sicily – NGO

Wednesday, 20 May 2020, 10:32 Last update: about 9 days ago

The Armed Forces of Malta attempted to pushback a boat of 101 migrants to Libya, before eventually deciding against it and giving them a new engine, 40 litres of fuel, a compass and directions to reach Sicily, the NGO Alarm Phone alleged on Wednesday.

Alarm Phone, a migrant rescue hotline NGO, spoke with survivors from the boat who recounted how upon arriving close to Malta they were met by an AFM patrol boat – identified in a video as P02 – which first carried out dangerous maneuvers around those in the water, before telling them to return to Libya because “everybody is sick in Malta”.

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The case concerns a boat of 101 migrants which Alarm Phone said had first contacted them on the night of 10 April. Alarm Phone said that they could not re-initiate contact with the boat, after that.  The boat however appeared in Pozzallo’s harbour in Sicily two days later – leaving Pozzallo’s mayor speaking of an “undoubtedly new strategy of the traffickers”.

“Little did he know that in this case, those who facilitated the arrival of the boat were, according to survivors, Maltese authorities”, Alarm Phone said in a twitter thread on the case.

One of the survivors – called Survivor A in the NGO’s account – recalled how they were first approached by a Turkish commercial vessel who had told them that they were close to Malta, and were only around 30 minutes away from landing in Marsa.

After this, the survivor states that another white vessel approached, asked how many people they were and handed out lifejackets to each person without talking to them.  Then, the migrant’s boat kept on moving towards Marsa until they were intercepted by the AFM.

Alarm Phone published a video on twitter of maneuvers carried out by the patrol boat, noting that just before that, the crew had demanded their GPS and satellite phone, into which they punched coordinates for the migrants to return to Libya.

“Alarm Phone: That video was taken when you were very close to Marsa?

Survivor A: Yes. When we arrived to Marsa, a small plastic vessel came to us. It’s like our vessel but that one was small.

Alarm Phone: That was the vessel from the video?

Survivor A: Yes, this happened just before the video. We find ourselves, our fuel was over and we still were in a distance of 30 minutes from the city. They told us, ‘give us your GPS and your Thuraya phone’. We gave them the Thuraya phone. They told us ‘give us your GPS’, we gave them the GPS. They changed the configurations from Malta so we go back to Libya. They told us go back to Libya and configured the GPS.”

At this point, the survivors recount, several people jumped into the water to try and swim to Malta.  The NGO said that instead of proceeding to rescue them, the patrol boat run dangerous maneuvers around them, resulting in almost drowning the survivors.

The survivor recounted to Alarm Phone how a second patrol boat appeared and how they were told that Malta could not take them because of Covid-19 – at which point, the survivor said, they pointed their guns at them as a threat.

“Survivor A: When we took the water, it was around 11am in the morning. The sun was there but not strong. Until around 2 or 3pm the sun was moving to the other direction, they told us ‘ok we made a decision we won’t return you to Libya’. All of us were happy and yelling ‘Allah Akbar’. They told us ‘we will show you the route until Italy’. We said ‘no we don’t have fuel’. They said ‘ok we will give you fuel’. They gave us 5 gallons, 40 liters. They told us ‘take these’. The gallons colour was black and something was written on it in English. They gave it to us. We took it.

We turned on the motor and it didn’t work. We told the big vessel that the small launch attached a rope to our boat to try pulling us back and it hit the engine many times and the engine broke. They gave us an engine 45 or 40 Yamaha. After they gave us the engine, we attached it and we put the fuel and they gave us a compass in a wooden box. They told us there two zeros, when the arrow is directed to the two zeros, go that way until you find yourselves in a city in Italy. We said ok. At that time, we started moving and the sun went down, it was around 5 or 6pm. We kept moving until the next day around 10am in the morning we arrived to Italy.”

The three survivors spoken to by the NGO all then recounted how they followed another AFM vessel – an orange one – for 12 hours as they made their way to Italy, before the AFM vessel peeled off and told them to continue sailing straight to Italy.

The migrants arrived in Pozzallo on 12 April and were placed in quarantine.

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