Europe must take collective responsibility for rescued migrants

Joint NGO Press Release

As Malta swelters in the summer heat, over 350 men, women and children are out at sea, stranded aboard rescue vessels waiting to be allowed to land. Despite repeated requests to Italy and Malta for a safe port, to date neither Member State has allowed disembarkation and none of the Member States of the EU have stepped in to offer refuge to those on board. As days turn into weeks and EU Member States continue to drag their feet, conditions on board the two ships worsen and people’s life and safety are compromised.

In the face of this callous disregard for human life, we, the undersigned NGOs, urge Malta to once more lead by example and allow the people stranded on board the rescue vessels to disembark in Malta, whether or not it is legally responsible for their disembarkation in terms of international law.

It is quite simply unacceptable to argue that the rescued migrants should be returned to Libya, where they risk imprisonment in inhuman conditions, torture, rape, and slavery. Libya cannot be considered a safe port by any definition, so it is imperative that another solution is found for the rescued migrants.

It is equally objectionable to imply that any State is somehow justified in refusing to allow the disembarkation of people rescued by NGOs. International maritime law is clear: the priority is to save lives and to ensure disembarkation in a place of safety, regardless of who conducted the rescue. Saving lives is therefore a legal obligation, and under no circumstances can it be considered wrong or – at worst – a crime.

The Member States of the European Union, a Union supposedly founded on solidarity and respect for human dignity, have a legal obligation to offer refuge to people fleeing persecution. That Europe repeatedly closes its doors to people fleeing harm is beyond reprehensible – it is a betrayal of the principles which are supposed to define us and of the rules that are there to protect us all.

Furthermore, it is amply clear that the Member States at the external borders of Europe, like Malta, Italy and Greece, cannot and should not be left to deal with this European challenge alone.

It is for this reason that we are calling on the European Union institutions and Member States to take collective responsibility for the tragedy unfolding on Europe’s doorstep and to take concrete steps to ensure that, wherever they are disembarked, people are received in conditions of dignity.


  1. aditus foundation
  2. African Media Association Malta
  3. Allied Rainbow Communities
  4. Anti-Poverty Forum Malta
  5. Caritas Malta
  6. The Critical Institute
  7. Drachma LGBTI
  8. Drachma Parents GroupIntegra Foundation
  9. Isles of the Left
  10. Jesuit Refugee Service (Malta)
  11. Kopin
  12. LGBTI+ Gozo
  13. Malta Emigrants’ Commission
  14. Maltese Association of Psychiatry
  15. Men Against Violence
  16. MGRM-Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement
  17. Migrant Women Association Malta
  18. Moviment Graffitti
  19. OASI Foundation
  20. Office of the Dean – Faculty of Education University of Malta
  21. People for Change Foundation
  22. Richmond Foundation
  23. SOS Malta
  24. SPARK15
  25. Young Christian Workers

The El Hiblu 1 Case

On 30 March 2019 three teenage migrants – aged 15, 16 and 19 – were charged before Malta’s Courts. The most serious charges include acts of terrorism. If found guilty, they’ll spend the rest of their lives in prison.

They were rescued by a commercial vessel, the El Hiblu 1. Despite promises that they would be delivered to safety, the El Hiblu 1 sailed to Libya. Upon realising what had happened, the rescued migrants protested.

They simply couldn’t be returned to the horrible treatment they’d been suffering in Libya.

They need your help.



Malta can and must do better!

Joint NGO appeal to the Prime Minister to resolve the Alan Kurdi standoff

We strongly urge Malta to allow the disembarkation of the over 60 people rescued over nine days ago by the Alan Kurdi. In doing so, Malta will ensure a humane end to this incident that prioritises the preservation of lives over political and legal considerations. Whilst we appreciate that these considerations are of course central to the determination of responsibilities and obligations, these should not override or ignore the need to ensure the safety of all rescued persons and of the rescuing crew.

We remind Malta and the European Union that Libya cannot be considered a safe port of disembarkation. Countless reports have been revealing the appalling human rights violations suffered by migrants in Libya. Furthermore, the recent escalation of violence in the country highlights the increased lack of security for Libyans and migrants alike. Forcibly returning migrants, as also Libyan nationals, to Libya would expose them to torture, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, discrimination and – in some cases – death.

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“Disembarkation, finally!” – Joint NGO reaction to the authorisation to disembark 49 rescued migrants

We welcome Malta’s decision to allow the disembarkation of the 49 migrants rescued by NGO boats, most of whom spent 18 days at sea. Disembarkation will ensure that they are provided with safety, shelter, and care.

We also appreciate the solidarity expressed by other Member States and institutions of the European Union, in agreeing to share the responsibility of hosting the rescued migrants.

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PEOPLE ARE MORE IMPORTANT – Joint NGO Statement

We are appalled beyond words that, after 18 days of negotiations, 49 men, women and children remain stuck on a boat within sight of the Maltese shore.

In spite of countless calls for solidarity, European Member States have not managed to find a diplomatic solution to the current impasse.

This is nothing short of tragic and shameful.  It can only mean that we have completely lost our humanity – as a people and a union of states that supposedly upholds the values of solidarity, respect for human rights and human dignity.

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