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, a coalition of 23 Maltese NGOs demanded yesterday.
“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,” they said in a statement.
“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.”
The NGOs said that “in the face of this callous disregard for human life, we, the undersigned, 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.”
They said 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.”
The said 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.”
They reminded the Member States of the European Union, a Union supposedly founded on solidarity and respect for human dignity, that they 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, they said 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.”
The NGOs who issued the statement are: aditus foundation, African Media Association Malta, Allied Rainbow Communities, Anti-Poverty Forum Malta, Caritas Malta, The Critical Institute, Drachma LGBTI, Drachma Parents Group, Integra Foundation, Isles of the Left, Jesuit Refugee Service (Malta), Kopin, LGBTI+ Gozo, Malta Emigrants’ Commission, Maltese Association of Psychiatry, Men Against Violence, MGRM-Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement, Moviment Graffitti, OASI Foundation, Office of the Dean – Faculty of Education University of Malta, People for Change Foundation, Richmond Foundation, SOS Malta, SPARK15.