We are extremely concerned to read of on-going negotiations between European Union Member States and Libya regarding the possible disembarkation in Libya of the twelve migrants rescued some days ago. Returning rescued migrants and refugees to Libya would expose them to serious human rights violations, which is a serious violation of international and European law.
International human rights law prohibits States from sending persons to countries where their life or freedom are in danger, or where they face a real risk of torture or inhuman and degrading treatment. Furthermore, in the context of rescue at sea, international maritime law requires that rescued persons – whoever they are – are disembarked at a place of safety. In view of the current turmoil in Libya, which is putting the lives of many Libyans at risk, and of the widely reported ill-treatment of non-Libyan migrants and refugees, it is clear that Libya cannot be considered a safe country in terms of international human rights law or of international maritime law.
In this regard we reiterate the September 2018 conclusions of the United Nations Refugee Agency:
“In light of the volatile security situation in general and the particular protection risks for third-country nationals, UNHCR does not consider that Libya meets the criteria for being designated as a place of safety for the purpose of disembarkation following rescue at sea.”
The undersigned non-governmental organisations, acting together as the #DontLetThemDrown initiative, strongly urge Malta, Italy and Spain to make sure that the rescued migrants are not disembarked in Libya under any circumstances. We urge the three Member States to reaffirm their commitment to fundamental human rights, as international legal obligations and also as shared European values.
We also call on the European Union institutions to ensure respect of these core values, and of the obligations boldly enshrined in the European Union Treaties and other legislation.
Furthermore, we appeal for the immediate disembarkation of the rescued migrants at a place of safety in order to avoid further deterioration of their situation and that of the crew members.
We are gravely concerned by the Government’s decision to close Malta’s ports to NGO rescue ships. The consequences of this measure are potentially fatal, as the vessels will no longer be able to continue saving lives in the Mediterranean Sea.
Although supposedly aimed at ensuring respect for the law, this action directly undermines the protection of human life at Europe’s borders, making them even more dangerous for refugees and asylum seekers.
The irregular migration sea route from Libya to Italy, which has always been the most lethal route for irregular entry into Europe, is becoming increasingly perilous. According to a 2017 UNHCR report, the death rate amongst those crossing from Libya increased to 1 for every 14 people in the first three months of 2018, compared to 1 for every 29 people in the same period in 2017. In 2017, the Central Mediterranean route accounted for 2853 out of 3139 deaths in the Mediterranean, while in 2018 it accounted for 635 out of 972.
NGOs saved thousands of lives in the Mediterranean between 2015 and 2018 – in 2016 they were the most important single Search and Rescue (SAR) actor, accounting for 26% of all rescues. They filled a huge gap in state search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean after Italy scaled back its Mare Nostrum operation in late 2014.
One of the inevitable consequences of the decision to close Malta’s ports to these vessels will be that more people will lose their lives attempting to reach a place of safety. This especially since EU states do not seem to have any plans to increase their search and rescue capacity in the Mediterranean, but intend to rely instead on the Libyan coastguard to conduct rescues.
The deaths of 100 migrants in the seas off Libya yesterday, after a Spanish NGO vessel was told that the Libyan coastguard was taking care of the rescue, highlights the deadly consequences of refusing to collaborate with NGOs and limiting their capacity to operate effectively.
Moreover, seen in the light of recent government statements stressing the need to allow the Libyan coastguard to operate without obstruction, the actions being taken against NGOs conducting search and rescue look like little more than a thinly veiled attempt to block refugees and migrants from leaving Libya.
It is impossible not to question the morality and humanity of a decision that will effectively trap people in an abusive situation, where their safety is anything but guaranteed. It is a well-documented fact that migrants in Libya routinely experience severe violations of their rights including rape, slavery, torture, ill-treatment, extortion and detention in miserable conditions. Not only, it is completely impossible for them to apply for protection there.
While it is no doubt important to secure our national borders, this can not, and should never be, at the cost of the life or safety of others, especially vulnerable people seeking refuge.
We therefore call on the government of Malta to urgently reconsider its decision and to allow NGO rescue vessels to continue to operate from Malta ports.
We also urge the government to support NGO rescue efforts not just by allowing them to use our port facilities but also by allowing rescued migrants to disembark in Malta pending a final decision on which countries will take them.
This press release is being issued by the following organisations:
aditus Foundation, Eritrean Community, Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants, Graffiti, IAFR, Integra Foundation, JRS Malta, Justice and Peace Commission of the Archdiocese of Malta, Kopin, Libico, Malta Emigrants’ Commission, Migrant Women Association Malta, PFC, PHROM, Solidarity with Migrants Group, SOS Malta, Spark 15.
Monday, 02 July 2018
Joint Italian and Maltese NGO Statement on incidents relating to people rescued at sea
Whilst we welcome the recent developments in relation to the disembarkation of rescued people on board the Alexander Maersk cargo and the ongoing coordination between the Governments of Italy, Malta, France and Spain, we urge all actors involved to immediately secure the disembarkation of the over 230 rescued people, among which children, unaccompanied minors and other vulnerable individuals, currently aboard the Mission Lifeline rescue ship.
Whilst we appreciate the need to clarify legal responsibilities, we emphasise that the protection of life and human dignity should remain the topmost priority.
In order to preserve the integrity of the maritime rule whereby all persons in distress are to be rescued, it is imperative that coastal states coordinate their efforts towards ensuring a prompt disembarkation at a place of safety.
This is a clear obligation under international law.
We are keen to clarify that NGOs rescuing persons in distress are not violating international norms, but rely on States to fulfil their obligations by indicating a safe port for prompt disembarkation of all rescued persons. We also remind the authorities concerned that disembarkation in unsafe places, such as Libya, would violate international law and is therefore not a valid option.
Thus, we express our concern with the announcement made by both the Italian and Maltese authorities on the intention of sanctioning the captain and crew of the Mission Lifeline rescue ship.
As Italian and Maltese civil society organisations, we reiterate that political disputes over migration responsibilities cannot be resolved by violating international law and placing people’s lives and wellbeing at risk.
Humanitarian and human rights obligations should always prevail over political considerations.
We therefore urge the forthcoming European Council meeting to urgently identify and implement much needed solutions to the situation in the Mediterranean, inspired by the principle of European solidarity and fully in line with the obligations related to the protection of human rights.
Statement issued by:
aditus foundation, African Media Association Malta, Associazione ONG Italiane (AOI), CONCORD Italia, Coordinamento Italiano NGO Internazionali (CINI), COSPE Onlus, Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants, Integra Foundation, Jesuit Refugee Service Malta, Kopin, LIBICO, Link 2007, Malta Emigrants’ Commission, Migrant Women Association Malta, Moviment Graffitti, People for Change Foundation, Platform of Human Rights Organisations in Malta (PHROM), SOS Malta, SKOP, Terre des Hommes – Italy.
Joint NGO Statement on the Aquarius incident
We commend Spain for accepting the disembarkation of the over 600 rescued migrants aboard the MV Aquarius. Without this intervention, the impasse between Italy and Malta over where to disembark the rescued migrants could have easily led to a humanitarian disaster. Spain’s intervention is an act of true solidarity, not only amongst EU Member States but also – and more importantly – with migrants and refugees trying to secure a safer life.
The protection of life and human dignity should remain the topmost priority under all circumstances. Whilst we appreciate the need to clarify specific legal responsibilities, the spirit of the law is to ensure the safety of all rescued persons, and also the integrity of the rescuing vessels and its crew. We also stress that disembarkation in unsafe places, such as Libya, would violate international human rights law and international law, and should therefore not be considered as an option.
In order to preserve the maritime rule whereby all persons in distress are to be rescued, it is imperative for coastal states to coordinate their activities towards ensuring a prompt disembarkation at a place of safety. This is a clear obligation under international law, rendered more pressing when the rescued persons include children, pregnant women and other persons in need of care and attention.
Finally, while we are aware of the challenges posed by the arrival of large groups of migrants and refugees, we urge Malta to do all that is necessary to ensure that it meets its legal and humanitarian obligations of offering a dignified reception to persons disembarked here. Once more we reiterate our commitment and our willingness to work with the authorities in order to achieve this objective.