The Malta Independent 25 September 2020, Friday

Normalising the idea of forcing people to live on a ship is ‘absurd’ – Aditus Foundation

Karl Azzopardi Sunday, 9 August 2020, 08:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

It is somewhat absurd that the idea of forcing people to live on a boat for a number of weeks has been normalised, Director of the Aditus Foundation Neil Falzon told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

On 30 July, the government said that it will be releasing a call for expressions of interest for the provision of vessels to keep migrants in quarantine on-board when they are rescued. 

Earlier this year, boats were already used for this purpose while Malta’s ports were closed, and this had been the subject of some criticism.

Contacted by this newsroom, Falzon said that it is perfectly understandable that the authorities need to find additional space where rescued migrants may be quarantined where there are fears of COVID-19 being present.

“Yet we find it somewhat absurd that we have normalised the idea of forcing people to live on a ship for a number of weeks. Let's remember that quarantine is a form of detention and there are clear rules on how a State can detain people, even in the case of disease prevention,” he explained. Indefinite detention is definitely not allowed, as is detention in a place where living conditions are undignified and abysmal.”

Falzon questioned whether it is really necessary to keep people on a boat in order to quarantine them and whether the money could be used for a solution that is more humane while also secure.

Notably, the boats used back in May had cost the government a total of €1.7 million for all four chartered. Falzon pointed out that unlike the situation in May, Malta's ports are open, and thus the legal basis for not allowing people in is unclear.

 “The question, therefore, is not whether quarantine is justified or otherwise, but how this quarantine is going to be carried out. Whichever quarantine situation we resort to, it must be one that treats people humanely and with dignity,” he said.

Asylum-seekers need to be registered as such and people should be provided with information as to their situation, while telephone or other contact with family, lawyers and the outside world should be provided, Falzon added.

“The pandemic does not justify a lowering of our standards of treatment.”

During the pandemic, the government also launched bilateral discussions with the Libyan government with the aim of better managing the influx of migrants coming to Malta.

Meetings were held between the Libyan Prime Minister and Malta’s Prime Minister Robert Abela as well as Foreign Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo through which agreement between the two countries was established to strengthen the bond between them.

Since then, the government has been full of praise for the cooperation that the Libyan government and Libyan coastguard have shown, with Minister Bartolo saying that he is very thankful for the Libyan authorities’ efforts to minimise the number of migrant boats leaving Libyan ports.

Nonetheless, a recent report by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) revealed that the Libyan coastguard had opened fire on a migrant boat that was trying to escape Libyan ports, killing two and injuring multiple others. IOM added that "Libya is not a safe port and reiterates its appeal to the European Union and international community for urgent action to end the return of vulnerable people to Libya."

The Malta Independent also asked Falzon for his opinion on this situation.

He explained that information on the human rights atrocities committed in Libya against migrants are well-documented and well-known to the Maltese authorities.

“Of course we understand the serious challenges Malta faces by receiving asylum-seekers leaving from Libya and of course there is a need to manage this situation properly. Yet under no circumstance can illegal behaviour be considered a proper solution,” Falzon said.

He believes that having a relationship with Libya does not mean that their terrible treatment of migrants should be applauded. Instead, it should drive Malta towards acknowledging the problem and trying to improve it through dialogue, value-sharing, training and other forms of cooperation.

This newsroom had pointed out these reports to Minister Barotlo as well, asking how he could confidently praise the Libyan coastguard when considering such reports of shootings on migrants by the authorities themselves.

A spokesperson for the ministry replied by simply saying that “the minster has nothing to add to what has already been said,” possibly referring to the minister’s comments on the need to improve Libya’s living conditions so as to tackle the problem of migration from its roots.

 

 

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