NGO press release on the occasion of the ‪Valletta Summit‬

#HumanRightsFirst

Time to act

Now is the time to act. We, the undersigned NGOs, urge states participating in the Valletta Summit on Migration to act decisively and urgently so that people will no longer die in their desperate search for protection in Europe.

Since October 2013, at least 6,892 men, women and children have perished in the Mediterranean attempting to reach Europe.

The summit, convened by the European Council in response to the rising numbers of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe irregularly, is an opportunity to go beyond words to concrete action.

The vast majority of the migrants entering Europe through the sea routes across the Mediterranean are Syrians, Eritreans, Afghans and Somalis – people with a strong prima facie claim to protection. Others are seeking the opportunity to live with dignity, which they absolutely cannot do in their home country. All resort to travelling irregularly because it is impossible for them to gain legal admission into Europe, whether to seek protection, find employment or access education.

Faced with this unprecedented challenge, so far EU Member States’ response has been more of the same: the emphasis remains largely focused on strengthening border control, improving existing mechanisms for returning migrants who do not qualify for protection, and increasing support for countries hosting large numbers of refugees outside Europe.

So far no real steps have been taken to increase the avenues for legal migration or to create safe and legal ways for people to reach a place where they can obtain protection – so refugees are forced to entrust themselves into the hands of smugglers and risk their lives. Resettlement pledges remain, at best, a token compared to the number of refugees being hosted in countries outside the EU.

Possibly most worrying, the needs of refugees and migrants are hardly taken into account and their voices are completely unheard. Refugees are looking for protection, which is about more than mere survival – it is about the possibility to belong to a community once more and to build life anew. Unless and until we take this into account, people will effectively be denied the protection to which they are entitled and, worse, they will continue to lose their lives in their attempt to find life.

So we urge participating states to put people first and to use the Summit to put in place concrete steps to:

→     Allow asylum seekers to access protection safely and legally, through measures such as: broadening existing rules so they can be reunited with their families; granting humanitarian visas and introducing mandatory and realistic quotas of resettlement.

→     Ensure that asylum seekers are received in conditions of dignity and that refugees are able to truly enjoy their rights.

→     Guarantee that those who do not qualify for asylum are treated with respect and that any returns are carried out in full respect for the principle of non-refoulement, in conditions of safety and dignity.

Statement issued by:

aditus foundation, Foundation for Shelter and Support of Migrants, Integra Foundation, Jesuit Refugee Service (Malta), KOPIN, Malta Emigrants’ Commission, Migrant’s Network for Equality, Organisation for Friendship in Diversity, Peace Lab, People for Change Foundation, SOS Malta

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aditus at the 1st EU Migration Forum

On 26th and 27th January our Director attended the first EU Migration Forum, jointly organised in Brussels by the European Commission and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).

“The Forum gathered inputs from national and international experts and top EU officials, but also testimonials from refugees and rescuers, who shared their real-life experiences and gave a face to migration flows, often wrongly portrayed in the media. Underlining the need for greater protection of asylum seekers and refugees coming to the European Union, the event, which brought together more than 200 participants, also discussed possible approaches to address people smuggling and human trafficking.”

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This first Forum was dedicated to the Mediterranean region, entitled ‘Safe routes, safe futures. How to manage the mixed flows of migrants across the Mediterranean?’ and in view of this regional focus our Director was invited to deliver a presentation as a panelists in one of the workshops (‘Access to the asylum procedure at the borders’). Together with Neil the panel consisted of representatives of the Fundamental Rights Agency, the European Asylum Support Office, UNHCR, JRS Europe and Prodein.

After introducing aditus foundation and our work, Neil dedicated his presentation to highlighting specific human rights concerns regarding access to EU territory and asylum procedure, and to criticizing the institutional approach to the question: what role for NGOs? He stressed the fact that migrants have been dying around Malta for several years, insisting that the momentum to address these tragedies be maintained. He also stressed the following:

  • asylum-seekers are increasingly refusing to be finger-printed, leaving them in an unprotected state. In our experience, this is probably due to sub-standard reception conditions in the region (notably Italy, Greece and Malta) as well as limited or no long-term prospects;
  • persons dying at sea are not only refugees but also migrants traveling for non-protection reasons. Discussions on safe and legal access to the EU for refugees should be held in parallel with talks on safe and legal access to the EU for migrants traveling for other reasons, such as employment, family reunification, etc.;
  • a shift from policy/politics back to a rights-based approach is urgently needed, in order to reframe discourse and standards within legal obligations emerging not only from the Common European Asylum System but also from other instruments such as the 1951 Refugee Convention, the ICCPR, the CRC, the ECHR, the EU Fundamental Rights Charter, etc.

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Neil reminded participants that refugees, almost by definition, will always tends to take unsafe and illegal routes to access protection, as also acknowledged in the 1951 Convention. With this in mind, 3 questions need to be tackled, particularly within the Mediterranean context:

  1. How do we avoid criminalizing irregular arrivals? Examples of bad practices given include detention, negative public discourse, judicial proceedings and sanctions;
  2. How do we treat persons traumatized by the unsafe journey? What protective and preventative systems do we need to establish?
  3. How do we treat the corpses? He referred to the 2013 Lampedusa tragedy, remembering the post-incident chaos due to the lack of procedures, guidelines or standards to deal with personal belongings, data collection, notification to family members, burials, etc.

Finally, Neil very strongly criticized the assumption that NGOs would fill those service gaps Member States could or would not provide themselves: legal aid, psycho-social support, interpretation, medical interventions, provision of information, family tracing, etc. He stressed that whilst NGOs are committed to providing such services as needed, we are primarily asking to be spoken to when discussing policies and laws.

“Everyone’s talking about the Mediterranean, everyone. But who is talking to us, us on the ground at the heart of the Mediterranean? Nobody!”

Neil’s final message was an appeal to all institutions: Talk to us!

We were happy to participate in this Forum, as we made new friends and reaffirmed our commitment to advocating for the highest possible human rights standards for migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees.


Commit to ensuring respect for Human Life

Returning forced migrants to Libya or failing to rescue them from sinking boats would put them at serious risk of inhuman and degrading treatment and could threaten their very lives.

Last week, the Court of Appeal ruled that the forced return of two Somali nationals to Libya in 2004 violated their human rights. The ruling underscores the unacceptable nature of the government’s declaration that Malta does not exclude returning migrants to Libya when it is tragically clear from countless reports that they will be in serious danger if returned.

Several migrants who arrived in Malta on 4 July 2013 described the suffering they faced in Libya. Many were detained for a long time in very harsh conditions and faced severe abuse. At least one migrant was shot in detention. They said sub- Saharan African migrants are still targeted for abuse in a scenario of rampant violence and insecurity in many Libyan towns and villages, where firearms and other weapons are readily available.

Their accounts are confirmed by credible reports by human rights agencies, which document several instances of deportation, torture and ill treatment of migrants held indefinitely in Libyan detention centres. Little more than a week ago, Amnesty International reported that on their visit to detention centres in Libya they met many migrants, including women, who had been brutally beaten with water pipes and electric cables. Some were left permanently disabled by their injuries.

The appeal court judgement, like the Hirsi v Italy judgement of the European Court of Human Rights before it, stresses that governments cannot send people to a country where there is a real risk that they will face serious harm and claim they were ignorant of the dangers, when these were so well documented by credible international organisations.

As the court makes clear, every single person, whether or not she enters the country legally, must be protected from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, for the simple reason that she is a human being and has fundamental rights that cannot be denied.

The judgment illustrates that failure to offer this protection can have devastating consequences: of the six migrants returned to Libya in 2004 only two made it back to Malta. The rest died in the desert when they were deported to the Libyan border after months of imprisonment in terrible conditions.

While we support Malta’s calls for increased responsibility sharing in migration issues, we, the undersigned NGOs, call on the Maltese government to publicly commit to ensuring full respect for the life of each and every migrant who needs protection and for Malta’s international obligations.


This statement is being issued by the following organizations, and can be downloaded here:

aditus foundation, Jesuit Refugee Service (Malta), Migrant’s Network for Equality, SOS Malta, Malta Emigrants’ Commission, KOPIN, Integra Foundation, Foundation for Shelter and Support of Migrants, Organisation for Friendship in Diversity.