In the wake of the latest deadly migrant boat incident off the Libyan coast, Malta has once again been accused of ignoring alarms and leaving men, women and children to die.
This time the boat that capsized was outside the Maltese search and rescue (SAR) zone, just to the south of it.
And once again the Maltese authorities chose to ignore the alarms, some say.
“This is another case in which Malta has refused to comply with its international obligations for rescues at sea. It has adopted a migration strategy that leaves men, women and children to drown or foists the responsibility onto other EU member states,” said Neil Falzon, the director of the Aditus human rights foundation in Malta.
However, he is one of the few dissenting voices in a country that is not fond of foreigners.
Over the years, the smallest state in the EU has consolidated its policy of reducing to the absolute minimum its rescue operations. Very few migrants are allowed to land on the island while a hardline stance is taken against undocumented migrants.
Maltese government’s silence and immense SAR zone The authorities refrain from making any official statements, always.
From the government to the armed forces (AFM, in charge of search and rescue operations in the enormous SAR zone stretching from the Strait of Sicily to the island of Crete), from the interior ministry to the foreign ministry, no one takes any position or responds to emails requesting comments.
The country, with over 115,000 foreign residents out of a total of 250,000 inhabitants, does not have sufficient naval vessels and aircraft to cover this enormous SAR zone.
Malta has recently purchased a multirole patrol vessel with a landing deck for helicopters that had been built in Italy.
However, the crew for the vessel have not yet completed their training and the AFM has only three helicopters.
The authorities also noted that the Saturday March 11 incident reported by Alarm Phone had occurred in Libyan’s SAR waters.
UN condemns Malta’s long history of not helping Alarm Phone has a long record of requests for rescue ignored and reported, such as in October when it signed a joint statement with MSF, RescueMed and SeaWatch in which they stated that: “On 26 September 2022, 23 people were sent to Egypt on the instructions of the Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) of Malta, after being rescued in the Maltese search and rescue (SAR) region by the merchant vessel Shimanami Queen, navigating under the Panama state flag. At the time of the rescue, those on board the small boat had already been at sea for four days, in poor weather conditions and with very limited supplies of food and water.” On May 27, UN Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet criticised pushbacks at sea committed more or less openly by Malta, as well as “horrific” living conditions in its migrant detention centers and even incitement to suicide.
In 2020, the Repubblika NGO reported to the judiciary a secret pact between Malta and Libya to take migrants back to the North African country but the inquiry seems to have simply disappeared from public attention.
“It is unacceptable for Malta to use human lives as political pawns,” the Aditus director said. “The European Union should condemn the infantile and dangerous moves of a government that always pretends nothing has happened. We expect Malta to comply with its obligations and make both its decisions and necessary information public.” Malta urges EU to work with Libya to stop traffickers Europe should work closely with the Libyan authorities to stop such criminal behaviours and the interior ministry was very categorical in its parliamentary session on Monday, Maltese government spokesman Edward Montebello told ANSA on Tuesday in responding to some questions on the latest deadly boat incident off the Libyan coast.
He added that the criminal networks and human traffickers responsible for these deaths should be handed over to the judiciary.
(Picture shows a boat drifting southeast of Malta, sighted by the Italian Coast Guard and reported to the Maltese authorities.