Amsterdam, October 20, 2021 – Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, is being held accountable for illegally pushing back a Syrian family. The family was illegally deported to Turkey by Frontex in October 2016, shortly after arriving in Greece. It is the first time that Frontex through an action for damages is held responsible before the EU General Court for illegally deporting people and violating fundamental rights. Reports of similar pushbacks by Frontex have been piling up over the past years. The Syrian family is being represented by law firm Prakken D’Oliveira Human Rights Lawyers. Prakken D’Oliveira is supported by the Dutch Council for Refugees, BKB, Sea-Watch Legal Aid Fund and Jungle Minds.
The Syrian family, with four young children between the ages of 1 and 7, applied for asylum in Greece in October 2016. Their request was registered by the local authorities. Eleven days later, the family was nonetheless deported by Frontex and Greek authorities and taken onto a plane to Turkey without any access to an asylum procedure. Nor was an official expulsion order presented. During the flight arranged by Frontex and with their staff present, the four young children were separated from their parents. More so, they were ordered not to speak to each other. In Turkey, the family was immediately imprisoned. After release, they had no access to basic services and were unable to sustain themselves. Fleeing onwards, the family are now living in northern Iraq.
Civil society response to the news of safety of the ‘missing’ 110
It is with great relief that we welcome news of the safe disembarkation in Italy of the 110 persons assumed to have been stranded. We thank the Italian authorities for allowing their disembarkation and for providing them with shelter and safety. We also appreciate the statement issued by the Armed Forces of Malta, confirming that the AFM had been closely monitoring this boat for some time.
Civil Society Press Statement on the fate of over 100 people abandoned at sea
We are extremely concerned at the fate of over 100 men, women and children in distress at sea. We know that over the past few days they were in distress in Malta’s Search and Rescue Zone. We also know that a ship was ready to rescue them, but was prevented from doing so by Malta. Now, we are unable to say where they are, if they have been pushed back to Libya or even if they are alive. It is unacceptable that Malta relinquishes its duty to coordinate the rescue of persons in distress in its Search and Rescue Zone. It is also undemocratic and reprehensible that Malta has repeatedly refused to provide information on its decisions and actions.
We are extremely concerned at allegations that Malta is complicit in the on-going illegal pushback to Libya of over 100 migrants. Returning migrants to Libya means returning men, women and children to severe human rights abuses, including arbitrary detention, violence and torture, inhumane living conditions, human trafficking and slavery. It is entirely unacceptable for Malta to even consider engaging in such activities in its efforts to reduce the number of arrivals of persons by sea.
Publicly available information indicates the presence of Libyan Coast Guard ships in Malta’s Search and Rescue Zone. Malta’s responsibility for persons in distress within our Search and Rescue Zone is to coordinate their rescue and ensure their disembarkation at a port of safety. As strongly reiterated by the European Union Commission and by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Libya is not a safe port for migrants. Malta’s engagement with Libya’s Coast Guard for this to pick up persons from Malta’s Search and Rescue Zone is tantamount to an illegal pushback as it will anyway result in the return of persons to a place where lives and human rights will be at risk.
The Malta Independent carried an interview on the idea of renting a quarantine ship for rescued migrants. The idea is not new: Italy has also resorted to this measure.
Read the full interview here.
“Yet we find it somewhat absurd that we have normalised the idea of forcing people to live on a ship for a number of weeks. Neil Falzon, aditus foundation Director
Let’s remember that quarantine is a form of detention and there are clear rules on how a State can detain people, even in the case of disease prevention,” he explained.
“Indefinite detention is definitely not allowed, as is detention in a place where living conditions are undignified and abysmal.”