The Malta Independent 26 November 2021, Friday

Government denies breaching rights of migrants who were held on tourist boats in 2020

Kevin Schembri Orland Thursday, 18 November 2021, 12:15 Last update: about 8 days ago

The Prime Minister, Home Affairs Minister and the State Advocate denied allegations that migrants’ rights were breached when they were held on tourist boats out at sea for weeks in 2020.

Thirty-two irregular migrants who were held aboard Captain Morgan and Supreme Cruises' tourism boats in 2020 filed an application before the First Hall of the Civil Court in its Constitutional Jurisdiction, arguing that their human rights were breached while they were held at sea.

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The applicants left Libya on different days between April, May and June 2020, by boarding small boats with other people - men, woman and children of different nationalities, to try and reach Europe, the application read. After some days at sea, "they were unable to continue their voyage due to their boats suffering damage, or due to bad or dangerous weather, and needed to ask for help to be rescued," it continued.

They were rescued and transferred onto vessels known for their tourism activities in Malta.

Among other things, they claim that the applicants were never officially informed about the reasons why they were placed on the boats or about the Maltese government's plans with regard to their situation. “At no stage were they informed about their right to ask for asylum in Malta, they were not given Detention Orders and nobody spoke to them about the right for redress against their detention."

The lawyers representing the 32 migrants – Neil Falzon, Cedric Mifsud, Katrine Camilleri and Carla Camilleri argue, among other things, that their clients’ right to liberty and security, as per the European Convention on Human Rights, and the same right under the EU’s Charter for Fundamental Rights, were breached. They also allege that through the decisions and actions taken by those who the case was filed against, their clients’ were exposed to inhuman and degrading treatment.

The migrants were allowed to disembark in Malta in early June 2020 after those on board one of the boats threatened the crew.

In their response to the court application, State Advocate Chris Soler, and Lawyer Julian Vella deny that any rights were breached.

They denied that the migrants were under some form of arrest in terms of the Human Rights Convention or the Fundamental Rights Charter while in international waters and that the articles are inapplicable.

Even if the court concludes that the articles in question are applicable, they said, there was no breach as the temporary accommodation was made legitimately and with absolute respect towards the fundamental rights and dignity of the applicants.

They reminded that the case dates back to the beginning of 2020 when Malta’s ports were closed and there was a public health emergency.

They said that the accommodation of the applicants outside of Malta’s territory was intended to help avoid the spread of Covid-19. They also denied that the applicants were not informed of their rights or able to challenge the legitimacy of the temporary accommodation. They said that the inhumane and degrading treatment allegation was unfounded.

The first hearing of the case took place today, where the State Advocate argued a technical point regarding the type of application filed. Mr Justice Toni Abela said that he would address this point when the case will be decided.

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