Malta Complicit in Unlawful Pushbacks at Sea

Joint Press Statement: aditus Foundation, Jesuit Refugee Service Malta, Moviment Graffitti & SAR (Search and Rescue) Malta Network, 15 December 2023

Shocking details of the complicity of the Maltese state in coordinating pushbacks to Libya from Malta’s search and rescue zone have emerged this week in the local and international pressi. We condemn and demand an end to these actions and policies which violate international and human rights laws.

The pushbacks to Libya are conducted by Libyan militias in coordination with the Maltese authorities. Libyan militias have a well-documented history of trafficking and committing gross human rights violations against migrants, including torture, extortion and forced labour.

An international coalition of investigative journalists now reports that the Armed Forces of Malta have facilitated the interception of people in distress in Malta’s Search and Rescue Zone by directly providing the GPS coordinates of migrant vessels to the Tareq Bin Zeyad Brigade.

The Tareq Bin Zayed Brigade continues to intercept people in distress at sea in Malta’s search and rescue zone and forcibly return them to Libya where they are subjected to systematic human rights abuses in contravention of the laws of the sea and international refugee law.

We call on the Maltese authorities to:

  • ⁠put an end to their long-standing policy of pushbacks to Libya by proxy.
  • ⁠immediately end all logistical cooperation with the Tareq Bin Zayed Brigade or any other Libyan militia engaged in trafficking and human rights violations.
  • ⁠stop hosting FRONTEX European Border Agency operations at Malta International Airport which facilitate the interception and forced return to Libya of people in distress from within Malta’s search and rescue zone.
  • ⁠and to rescue people in distress in Malta’s search and rescue zone and process their claims for asylum without delay, in order to fulfil our responsibilities under international law.


i) Torture, murder, humiliation: Meet the militia carrying out pullbacks in Maltese SAR zone, MaltaToday; Malta provided migrant boat location to Libyan militia with human trafficking ties, MaltaToday; Wie eine brutale Foltermiliz zu Europas neuem Handlanger wurde, Der Spiegel; How Europe allowed Malta to hand migrants over to Libyan militia, Le Monde; European powers allow shadowy Libyan group to return refugees, Al Jazeera; Frontex and the pirate ship, Lighthouse Reports.