From file: Migrants on board the Armed Forces of Malta vessel P22, rescued at sea by Italian coastguard vessels just outside Maltese waters, arriving at a maritime base at Hay Wharf, in Floriana, Malta | Photo: ARCHIVE/EPA/DOMENIC AQUILINA
From file: Migrants on board the Armed Forces of Malta vessel P22, rescued at sea by Italian coastguard vessels just outside Maltese waters, arriving at a maritime base at Hay Wharf, in Floriana, Malta | Photo: ARCHIVE/EPA/DOMENIC AQUILINA

Thirty-two asylum seekers have filed a complaint for human rights violations against the Maltese government. In the spring of 2020, the cabinet decided to leave them for weeks on two tourist boats outside territorial waters as a precautionary measure against Covid-19.

Thirty-two asylum seekers have filed a complaint against the Maltese government for human rights violations suffered in the spring of 2020, when Malta decided to leave them on two tourist boats anchored 13 miles from the coast -- and therefore beyond Maltese territorial waters -- for weeks.

The decision by the Maltese government was at the time justified with a ban on entering the archipelago as part of measures to counter the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maltese policy of confinement on day-cruise boats

Between April and June of last year, over 400 migrants and refugees rescued in the Maltese search and rescue area (SAR) were restricted to two large boats normally used for tourist day-cruises, and thus without any cabins, instead of being identified and taken to reception centers on land.

An initial group of 57 people was recovered from the Dar al-Salaam fishing boat, which was officially flying a Libyan flag but which was managed by a Maltese captain answering to the Valletta government that had previously been involved in a pushback towards Libya in 2019.

The 57 people were not allowed to disembark on the island and were instead taken to the boat anchored offshore. They were joined by hundreds of others in the following weeks.

'Asylum seekers were never informed of their rights'

The 32 people who filed the complaint for human rights violations were fleeing from countries including Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Liberia, and Bangladesh.

Overall, the Maltese government rented three large boats made available by the Captain Morgan and Supreme Cruises companies. The asylum seekers were finally authorized to disembark in June after being left at sea for three days in poor weather conditions.

"The asylum seekers," the complaint presented by their lawyers stated, "were never informed of their rights and a detention order was never issued. They remember that the captain only asked them to which European Union country they wanted to be relocated since this was the only plan by the Maltese government."

 

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