By Declan Carey
AUTHORITIES in Malta are deliberately obstructing the arrival of refugees according to Amnesty International, forcing asylum seekers to face persecution in war-torn Libya.
Investigations by the human rights group found that the island nation is enforcing ‘unlawful’ measures – such as putting out misinformation and shutting down rescue attempts – to prevent people from reaching Maltese shores.
By preventing safe passage, human rights abuses are ‘being sustained’ by Malta and other European Union (EU) members according to Amnesty’s Refugee and Migrant Rights Director Steve Valdez-Symonds.
“The primary tactics are all to avoid the arrival of people in the first place,” he told Redaction Politics.
“There’s been plenty of evidence that Malta has been seeking to avoid ships that have rescued people having the prospect of entering a Maltease port.
“Not simply by refusing access, but even by putting out misinformation to obstruct rescue at sea in Maltease waters.
“We know that the EU generally, certainly Italy and indeed the UK, have been strongly supporting and funding the coastguard in Libya to intercept more people and take them back to Libya.
“We can see that there is increased pressure from governments, particularly Italy and Malta, to shut down NGO rescues, so impounding boats, threatening or initiating prosecutions against those operating those boats.
“There is a concerted effort to obstruct and frustrate rescue at sea, save for in limited circumstances, interception at sea by Libyan authorities or those prepared to return people to Libya.”
“This is cyclical and the EU is complicit in it, they are complicit in a cycle of abuse.
“Many of the people that are in detention in Libya have attempted these journeys more than once and been returned there to be abused and sold on.”
As EU members, Malta and Italy are bound by the Common European Asylum System, an obligation to ‘welcome asylum seekers’ and ensure fair treatment.
A record number of people arrived in Malta in January and February this year, but since April the Government announced it would not guarantee a port of safety for persons at sea due to the impact of Covid-19.
But Amnesty’s Valdez-Symonds believes authorities in Malta, Italy, and around Europe are more concerned with preventing further arrivals than stopping for human rights abuses.
“People who are intercepted and returned to Libya are generally detained in situations which are indefinite, grossly inhumane, unsanitary and overcrowded.
“This has been the situation in Libya for some years now, it’s been well documented by Amnesty, by other human rights organisations, by the United Nations and by others.
“Unfortunately, governments across Europe have chosen not to care because they have decided it’s more important to them to stop more people arriving in their countries.
“Including people who are perfectly entitled to arrive and seek the asylum to which they have a right.
“It’s more important to stop that happening than it is to care about the horrific abuses that people are being subjected to.
“And the lawlessness, and criminality and abuse that is being sustained by this.”
The 1951 Refugee Convention adopted by the United Nations prohibits refugees or asylum seekers from being expelled or returned, including anyone fleeing torture or other human rights abuses.
Since 2017 the EU has funded several projects in Libya, including ‘support to Integrated border and migration management.’
The UK is involved in migration work with Libya as a donor to the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF), which delivers support to the Coastguard and through funding to Operation Sophia, which has trained the Coastguard since 2016.
A 2017 freedom of information request revealed that this included €695,000 in voluntary financial contributions.
The Malta High Commission in London was approached for comment.
Redaction cannot survive without your help. Support us for as little as $1 a month on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/RedactionPolitics.