Reflections on refugees @ sea

Hey all! I hope everyone is safe and taking all the precautions needed.

This week I started writing this blog post on Easter Sunday. My family and I were gathered around the kitchen table with warm food that my sisters and I had prepared. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by my family. As I had this wonderful image in front of me, I could not stop but think about the people stranded at sea. My social media was bombarded with news on how a group of asylum-seekers where stranded at sea. These articles had a profound impact on me and that’s why I decided to write this blog post.

I thought, “at the moment there are groups of men, women and children who are aboard a rubber boat, which has been stranded for more than five days now. They are facing the risk of being left to drown during those days of religious celebration for Christians, since both Malta and Italy closed their ports, having declared that they are unsafe“.

We are living in a time when we are experiencing fear for our lives and our health. We started panicking, buying everything in bulk and protecting our loved ones however we can. Yet now that there are innocent people drowning in our waters, we decided to turn our back on them. We leave them alone with no help and what is the popular message? LET THEM DROWN.

We are feeling very anxious and experiencing fear from the COVID-19 pandemic. But I feel this is incomparable to what is causing migrants to leave their home countries and displace their families. At this point a poem by Warsan Shire called ‘Home‘ comes to my mind. The first two lines in this poem are:

“no one leaves home unless

home is the mouth of a shark…”

Warsan Shire, Home.

These lines underline that refugees would not leave their homes unless home is where there is war, terrorist attacks, radical political views, persecution, or other serious human rights issues.

And what do they get? Close to zero compassion. EU citizens turning their backs on them. You would think we would be more compassionate during this time and that it comes natural to help people in distress…at least for me. Since COVID-19 hit our island we have seen numerous acts of kindness and our social media has been flooded with images showing these acts.

However it is different for migrants. It seems like they do not deserve our compassion. They should go back. We do not have space for them. We are full!

What happened on 15 April 2020?

At this point five people were found dead on a boat in Maltese search and rescue waters. What about the others, you ask? Well, the others were sent back to Libya. Alarm Phone, an organisation operating an alarm number for migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea, said in a tweet:

53 people were returned to Libya. 5 of them are dead.

They were illegally abducted in Malta SAR zone & Malta is responsible for these deaths and for returning the survivors to war, rape and torture.

We are still verifying if it is the boat with ~55 people that was missing.

Alarmphone tweet.

Luckily, there are some people trying to put pressure on the Government!

On Easter Sunday, Xandru Cassar and Lara Mohnani, started a protest in front of Auberge de Castille. In a Times of Malta article Xandru said, “that he wanted to bring attention to the “suffering and danger of the lives of those who are stranded at sea”.

Xandru and Lara.

Auxiliary Bishop Charles Scicluna said in a tweet, “all persons in distress within Malta’s SAR zone should be rescued & their safety should always be guaranteed. Saving lives & ensuring their disembarkation at a safe place is a fundamental legal obligation and also a moral imperative that can in no way be negotiated or renounced.”

Peppi Azzopardi, host of a famous TV programme, wrote a poem called ‘Madonna xi ġralna’, translated and explained on a MaltaToday article. “”The virus: yesterday 53, today 33. My God, what has happened to us, it didn’t allow us to stay together, how it is spreading everywhere… the water entering our boat,” Azzopardi writes in his poem, which starts from the point of view of a person stranded at sea on a vessel. His poem then shifts to the perspective of a country which has closed its ports due to the coronavirus. “Sorry, little boy, I know you are not to blame, but we’ve now closed our ports. I’m sorry they didn’t manage to inform you that we won’t be saving you. We are facing many problems – you better drown quietely.”

A social media campaign was launched by a group of human rights NGOs, including aditus foundation, pressuring the Maltese Government to revoke its decision to close all ports to migrants. The campaign encourages people to post social media photos of themselves holding a slogan with the hashtags #DontLetThemDrown and #AllLivesMatter, tagging the Prime Minister of Malta Robert Abela and Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri.

The aditus foudation team #DontLetThemDrown.

I feel sad and angry, to say the least, by the news that we let down innocent people. Five of them died unfairly while the others are back to a land of horrors, all because Malta chose to play a political game with peoples’ lives. I am completely speechless. All I have to say to these people is that we are sorry that we have let you down.


#KeepingUpWithTheInterns is part of our project Marginalised Persons as Human Rights Volunteers. If you want to follow Matthew and Rimaz as they navigate their way through Malta’s human rights landscape, subscribe to our News & Updates or follow them on our social media pages!

This project has been funded through the Voluntary Organisations Project Scheme managed by the Malta Council for the Voluntary Sector on behalf of Parliamentary Secretary for Youth, Sports and Voluntary Organisations within the Ministry for Education and Employment. This project/publication reflects the views only of the author, and the MEDE and the MCVS cannot be held responsible for the content or any use which may be made of the information contained therein.