Government must provide information on illegal pushback operations

30 April 2020

Joint civil society statement

We are deeply concerned that the fate of around 62 migrants in distress at sea remains shrouded in secrecy. For more than 24 hours, men, women and children were known by European and Maltese authorities to be in distress within Malta’s Search and Rescue Zone, yet nothing is known of actions taken to ensure their safety. We remain in the dark as to whether the Government decided to rescue them, to refuse their entry to Malta, to return them to Libya or to let them drown.

It is disconcerting that news of migrants about to drown and who could be saved by Malta’s prompt intervention does not trigger any sort of response from the Government. We wholly appreciate Malta’s challenges in managing the arrival of migrants and refugees. Yet it is nonetheless abhorrent that these challenges render us insensitive to loss of life right at our doorstep.

The Government must not remain silent before such tragic incidents and must fully disclose policies, decisions and actions that could result in loss of life.

We are particularly appalled that the Government has made no attempt to explain its relationship with the private fishing vessel returning migrants to atrocities in Libya. Furthermore, yesterday’s revelations by Mr Neville Gafá, confirming his coordination of illegal pushback operations under instruction from the Office of the Prime Minister, warrant full disclosure by the same Office.

Government is fully aware that returning migrants to Libya is a clear and unequivocal breach of international law, confirmed in 2013 by a decree of the European Court of Human Rights against Malta. Attempting to circumvent these obligations through the engagement of a private vessel would in no way absolve Malta of its legal and moral responsibilities. On the contrary, if such allegations of collusion were to be confirmed, they would indicate a cowardly and callous approach to human dignity itself.

We therefore urge the Government to provide clear and regularly updated information on every action taken by the Armed Forces of Malta since the moment it was alerted of the situation of around 62 migrants in distress in Malta’s Search and Rescue Zone.

We also expect the Government to clarify its relationship with the owner of the Dar al Salam 1 (formerly the Mae Yemenija or Mae Yemanja, IMO: 702749), 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.

Finally, it is imperative for the Government to disclose details of all Mr. Gafá’s activities in relation to illegal pushbacks to Libya.

Statement of

  1. aditus foundation
  2. Alarm Phone
  3. Allied Rainbow Communities
  4. Association for Justice, Equality and Peace
  5. Blue Door English
  6. The Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation
  7. Department for Inclusion and Access to Learning
  8. Doctors for Choice Malta
  9. Great Oak Malta Association
  10. Integra Foundation
  11. Jesuit Refugee Service Malta
  12. Justice and Peace Commission
  13. Kopin
  14. Kunsill Nazzjonali taż-Żgħażagħ
  15. LGBTI+ Gozo
  16. Malta Emigrants’ Commission
  17. Malta House of Prayer Foundation
  18. Malta Humanist Association
  19. Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement (MGRM)
  20. Migrant Women Association Malta
  21. Moviment Graffitti
  22. Office of the Dean – Faculty of Education
  23. Office of the Dean – Faculty for Social Wellbeing
  24. The People for Change Foundation
  25. Repubblika
  26. SOS Malta
  27. Spark 15
  28. Women’s Rights Foundation