The Malta Independent 25 June 2024, Tuesday
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El Hiblu 3: ‘2 of them were children, yet were treated like the worst of criminals’ – Coleiro Preca

Monday, 27 March 2023, 13:48 Last update: about 2 years ago

President Emeritus Marie Louise Coleiro Preca and activists continued their calls on Monday for the Attorney General to drop the case against the El Hiblu 3.

The former President said that two of the three were children when they arrived, but were treated like the worst of criminals. 

On 28 March 2019, three youngsters aged 15, 16 and 19, known as the "El Hiblu 3", first set foot in Malta. They were among a group of migrants who fled Libya on a rubber boat. At risk of drowning, 108 people were rescued by the crew of the cargo ship El Hiblu 1. The crew sought to return the rescued migrants to Libya.

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Activists argue that the migrants protested their return and convinced the crew of the El Hiblu 1 to steer north, to Malta. When they landed in Malta, the three were arrested. The prosecutors have argued differently, and accused the "El Hiblu 3" - the name given to the three youngsters Amara, Kader and Abdalla - of having committed multiple crimes including acts amounting to terrorism - threatening the ship crew and being ringleaders in highjacking the ship, forcing it to head to Europe. A bill of indictment against the three has not yet been issued.

Speaking in front of the law courts, Daniela DeBono, from the 'Free the ElHiblu3' campaign, said they were speaking on behalf of 22 organizations. She argued that the compilation of evidence has been ongoing for four years, and called on the Attorney General for all charges to be dropped.

"The ship was full of people who had just been rescued. When they realised that they were headed to Libya, they were scared and desperate. There was crying, shouting, and some indicated that they were ready to jump into the rough sea to certain death to escape the hell that awaited them in Libya. The captain and the rest of the crew could not communicate because they did not speak common languages. Here Abdalla, Amara and Kader entered the picture. They acted as translators and mediators between the group that had just been rescued and the captain and crew. It was thanks to them that the situation calmed down, and no one jumped into the sea."

"Abdalla, Amara and Kader are still proud of their action to this day. They saved people. They helped to prevent a return to Libya, and therefore saved many from being thrown into hell again."

"They didn't fight, they didn't hurt anyone. They did one thing: they spoke, translated and mediated," she said. 

President Emeritus Coleiro Preca 

President Emeritus Coleiro Preca said that Abdalla, Amara and Kader were not allowed to enjoy their childhood and youth.

"After the traumatic experiences they lived through in Libya, in concentration camps as Pope Francis calls them, upon their arrival in Malta they found themselves arrested. Why? because they saved the lives of their friends from being taken back to Libya for torture and rape."

"Our country arrested them for nothing. When their migrant friends on the ship realised that they were heading back to Libya, they became desperate and were going to jump overboard. It was here that Abdalla, Amara and Kader, who knew a little English, intervened with the captain not to take them back to Libya."

"Testimony in court confirms that these three did nothing other than translate, and were intermediaries in a situation that could have degenerated into people losing their lives by jumping overboard in order not to again experience cruelty and torture," she said.

Coleiro Preca said that in Malta, "we passed them, and are passing them, through another trauma." At first, she said, they were placed in jail, and were later given bail. She said that they have to sign at a police station three times a week and are not allowed near the sea, not allowed to stay outside of their homes past 9pm.

The three have been going to court for four years, she said, adding that Abdalla, Amara and Kader became victims of a legal limbo. "An unnecessary delay in the courts."

The youths face no less than nine preliminary charges, including terrorist acts, she said. "When they arrived in Malta, two of them were children, 15 and 16 years old, and despite this fact they were treated like the worst of criminals." 

She said that Malta didn't have the decency to observe UN Conventions or the European Convention of Human Rights.

These children were thrown into the Corradino Correctional Facility, she said, instead of a facility for children. It took 8 months for them to be released on bail, the former President added.

She said the three spent four years going to court "for nothing. Four years of waiting in court is excessive, not right, and is unjust. This is nothing but cruelty to children, who like other children have a right to live free." These three, she said, did nothing other than help others, "and this is what those on the ship with them testify." Four years, she said, equals nearly a quarter of their lives.  She said they are facing unjust accusations, and said that a delay of justice is a denial of justice. 

She appealed to the Attorney General to pay attention to a letter sent last September which, she said, was never acknowledged, and drop the case. "This case should never have been brought to court. This is a case of children, who knew a bit of English, who were asked to mediate and managed to save lives."

David Yambio, founder of 'Refugees in Libya' also spoke. "I was in Libya experiencing the inhuman treatment that these young men refused to be returned to. I have come here to praise these three young people for the decision which they made."

"Just two months apart, in January 2019 I was also on a dingy boat and was rescued by a commercial ship that was sailing under the Sierra Leone flag." He said he was pushed back to Libya, where he saw people lose their lives.

In detention, women are raped, and men tortured in detention, "and children live without dreams," he said.

He said that the three facing preliminary charges in Malta, with the ability to interpret and use their words and speak to the captain, "are being criminalised by the Maltese authorities, by the rule of law that should exist to help everyone achieve and live in peaceful circumstances."

He said that the situation in Libya has been fully documented by the international community and UN agencies, but said that this is not enough to convince the Maltese authorities. 

Yambio said that refugees are coming from places ravaged by war, places that were reduced to poverty by colonial powers. "We do not have any chances to build our lives as all the resources were stolen," he said, while also mentioning tyrannical dictatorships.

He said that with the EU's agreement with Libya "we cannot breathe."

"We have come here to ask the authorities to do the right thing. The Maltese people demand a fair access to justice and rule of law, which is not being applied." He said that the three young men have proven to be law abiding citizens, one of whom is a father now. He asked for the charges to be dropped.

Maria Pisani from Integra, said that the authorities, "as a terrorising force, put the lives of three young men on hold."

"They were thrown in prison for resisting an illegal return to a war zone. They were translating whilst crying, because they were kids, in English. Because it was only them who were able to communicate. I cannot think of a bigger cruelty. I cannot think of something more unjust."

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