Students protesting outside the Maltese parliament at the treatment of migrants being held offshore | Source: Facebook site of Xandru Cassar (student protestor- pictured second from left)
Students protesting outside the Maltese parliament at the treatment of migrants being held offshore | Source: Facebook site of Xandru Cassar (student protestor- pictured second from left)

A student who has been protesting since April about the treatment of migrants trying to land in Malta has gathered momentum recently following the death of the African American man George Floyd in the USA. The student’s protest was reinforced by calls from the rescue organization SOS Mediteranee who called the situation "unacceptable."

A growing group of students are protesting outside the Maltese Parliament. They're calling on the government to allow the 425 migrants aboard four pleasure boats moored 13 nautical miles off the island to be allowed to disembark and given the chance to seek asylum.

Their protest has gathered momentum in recent days following the death of an African American man, George Floyd, in police custody in the USA and the #BlackLivesMatter campaign.

Expressing disapproval at injustice

The student leading the protest, Xandru Cassar, made a speech on Wednesday, June 3, reported Malta's Independent newspaper. He made a "sincere appeal to youths and students" asking them to take their outrage at what happened in the USA and express their disapproval at "that which is unjust." He said that if youths and students "feel the treatment of these 425 is unjust [they should] contact us on Facebook Messenger and join us next week."

Cassar said that he wanted to show solidarity to the 425 people on board the boats and hoped to highlight the importance of protecting "human rights and human lives […] until these people are allowed to disembark."

'Let them in'

Xandru Cassar, a Maltese student already made headlines in April when he pitched a tent outside the office of the Maltese prime minister when the country announced it was closing its ports due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He called on the prime minister to "Let [the migrants] in."Students protesting the treatment of migrants in Malta | Source: Facebook site of Xandru CassarHis Facebook page is full of his statements and articles written about his protest.At the time, it was reported that he met with Prime Minister Robert Abela, but details of what the two discussed were not disclosed. Cassar and his supporters started their protest again ten days ago when it became clear that the government would be keeping the rescued migrants on board the pleasure boats until a European solution was offered.

Situation 'unacceptable'

Cassar is not the only person protesting the situation. The private rescue organization SOS Mediteranee added its voice to the debate on Wednesday too. In a press release published on their website they said that the situation was "unacceptable." Hundreds of rescued migrants are staying on Captain Morgan vessels near Malta  Photo picture-allianceAP PhotoSOS Mediteranee pointed out that the pleasure boats chosen for the migrants' detention off shore were normally used to take tourists along the coast to popular beauty spots like the blue cave and beaches which could only be reached by sea. Now, the boats are moored 13 nautical miles off shore, outside Malta's territorial waters and essentially on high seas.

They said that the boats were "unsuitable for long stays" and that some of the survivors had been held on board for "more than a month." SOS Mediteranée said "instead of disembarking them in a safe place as international law requires, those rescued at sea are being used for political negotiations with EU member states, which despite the urgency of the situation have barely proposed any coordinated solution for their relocation."

'A sea of death and inhumanity'

SOS Mediteranee said that "a combination of delays and failure to assist and respond to distress calls, nontransparent interceptions by private ships and coordinated pushbacks is creating a chaotic and deadly spiral in the Central Mediterranean."

The group's co-founder and general director, Sophie Beau, said in the statement that she was worried that there was a black hole opening up in the Mediterranean where people were dying without witness. She implored EU states to not allow the Mediterranean to turn into "a sea of death and inhumanity," again this summer.

The group called on EU states and the government of Malta to make sure that all those on board be disembarked immediately to a "place of safety." They added that EU states should "re-establish a coordinated re-location mechanism." 

According to the news agency Associated Press (AP), only France so far has come forward to offer shelter to some of the migrants on board the boats in Malta. Finally they called on European states to "urgently set up a comprehensive and efficient state-led sea rescue operation that abides by maritime law and saves lives at sea."

SOS Mediteranee said it was preparing to resume their own rescue operations aboard the Ocean Viking as soon as they could. The group said they would "take all necessary precautions around the COVID-19 epidemic to operate safely in the current context."

Easing of restrictions

When questioned about the migrants' fate, Prime Minister Abela, on June 1, told the press that the situation was "unfortunate." He reiterated however that the ports would remain closed "for now as part of coronavirus containment rules." Like many other EU states, Malta is currently easing its lockdown restrictions. AP reported that Malta will again open its airports to tourists on July 1. Refugees in a migrant centre in Malta | Photo: EPA/LINO ARRIGO AZZOPARDIAccording to AP, Malta has registered "620 known cases of COVID-19." 50 of those were among migrants at an onshore reception center. That center was then duly quarantined and other centers on land have been declared full. AP quoted the Maltese Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo from a few weeks ago when he claimed that since 2005 other EU states had taken a "miserly 8% of all those who were saved and brought to Malta."

Most of those who do land in Malta and apply for asylum are refused if it is decided that they have made the journey due to economic reasons as opposed to fleeing from a specific threat, from which they need protection.

 

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