EUROPE’S anti-refugee policies have reached new depths, a human rights organisation said today after detailing troubling conversations with the Maltese maritime authorities.
Last Friday afternoon, Alarm Phone, an activist network which provides support for people crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe, discovered that the Maltese Rescue Co-ordination Centre (RCC) allowed the EU-funded Libyan coastguard to intercept a refugee boat from within its search and rescue (SAR) zone.
Alarm Phone contacted Malta’s RCC after it was contacted by an overcrowded boat with nearly 50 people on board in distress.
But when the group later repeatedly tried to provide the RCC with the boat’s updated location, their calls and emails were ignored until seven hours after they were first contacted by the boat.
According to a transcript of the phone conversation, seen by the Morning Star, the duty officer at the RCC told Alarm Phone that he had “confirmation that this case was rescued by the Libyan coastguard” and gave the location of the rescue, a position inside the island nation’s SAR zone.
The group says the incident showed Malta had violated international SAR and refugee law by failing to immediately assist a boat in distress within its SAR zone, by failing to instruct the Libyan coastguard to bring the rescued people to the closest port of safety, which would have been Lampedusa at only 41 miles away, and by allowing refugees to be returned to a warzone.
Alarm Phone’s Maurice Stierl told the Star that Malta’s actions were cynical.
“Instead of immediately launching a rescue operation, these 50 lives were put at risk in order to allow the so-called Libyan coastguard the time to come into the Maltese SAR zone.
“Europe’s anti-migrant deterrence has reached yet another low point where Libyan forces, whose implication in widespread human rights violations is proven, are allowed into European SAR zones to abduct people and return them to the inhumane camps of Libya.”
“We denounce these cynical interceptions and refoulements in the strongest possible terms.”
The migrants were returned to Tripoli and, according to Alarm Phone, were sent to the Triq al-Sikka detention centre, which is “well known for its inhumane conditions and the grave human rights violations that occur there,” the group said.
Meanwhile, the European Union has still not provided a port of safety to the Ocean Viking, an NGO migrant rescue ship operated by French charities SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders, which rescued 104 people on October 18, five days after the crew asked the Maltese and Italian governments for help.