Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela rejected the charges against him | Photo: picture-alliance/Xinhua/J. Borg
Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela rejected the charges against him | Photo: picture-alliance/Xinhua/J. Borg

An inquiry into the death of migrants at sea has cleared the name of Malta's prime minister of culpability, dismissing homicide accusations made against him and the chief of Malta's army.

Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela had been accused of homicide by an NGO, which filed a criminal complaint against him after a boat carrying migrants in Malta's search and rescue zone was returned to Libya with fived dead people on board over Easter. Another seven went missing. 

‘Not a push back’

Abela confirmed that Malta had used a private fishing boat to collect the migrants and take them to Libya, insisting that the operation was a rescue, "not a push back.”

The inquiry found that Malta had followed its international obligations and said there was no proof that linked the prime minister or Maltese army chief Jeffrey Curmi to the incident. International law prohibits states from returning asylum seekers to a country where they face persecution.

No foul play

The inquiry also cleared an army boat crew of a second allegation, claiming that they had sabotaged the engine of a migrant boat while out at sea on a separate occasion. Authorities said that investigations should focus on foul play on part of human traffickers rather than accusing the government of being involved in the incident.

That allegation was based on a phone call the migrants had made to the Alarm Phone NGO hotline service.

Read more: Malta accused of illegally turning away migrant boat

Malta unable to accept migrants amid pandemic

Malta has refused to bring asylum seekers to its shores over the past two months, saying its resources are currently stretched by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Since the inquiry began, the Maltese government has chartered a number of tourist cruise boats as temporary offshore detention centers for asylum seekers rescued at sea. This practice, however, has attracted a lot of criticism.

with dpa


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