The European Commission has stated it cannot comment on the decisions taken by Italy and Malta to close their ports to migrant rescue vessels.
A Commission spokesperson told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday that they were not in a position to make a comment of a legal nature on this particular case and that the EU institution “has no competence to determine whether a port is safe”, according to the EU Observer.
The determination as to whether a port is ‘safe’ arises from maritime law and is beyond EU competence. Hence, the response received.
Meanwhile, the EU’s foreign policy branch, also confirmed that the letter by Foreign Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo had been received. “We will give it due consideration and reply in an appropriate way,” the spokesperson for the branch said.
On Monday, Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo appealed to the EU to intervene and crack down on the situation in Libya before it worsened, demanding an EU humanitarian mission in the country along with €100 million worth of food and medical supplies. He said that Malta cannot be left alone.
“If this aid is delayed, thousands of people will remain in desperate conditions, where their only option would be to travel by sea. The EU must act now before there is a humanitarian catastrophe,” Bartolo said in a video message.
A spokesperson for the Commission said it would not weigh in on the migrants’ disembarkation, but would help facilitate relocating the migrants once brought ashore.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Maltese have turned to social media and picked up an appeal by 20 human rights NGOs against the government’s decision to follow Italy’s footsteps and close its ports to migrants, as over one hundred are reportedly out at sea on rescue boats off Malta.
Using the hashtag #dontletthemdrown and #alllivesmatter on a sign, people are tagging Prime Minister Robert Abela and Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri on Facebook and Twitter in a social media campaign thought up by the group of NGOs who had slammed the Maltese authorities for deciding not to help migrants who need rescuing.
The social media campaign, which has gone viral, was launched on Monday in an attempt to reverse the government’s decision, which it said was due to the spread of COVID-19.
Some people even added the hashtag #supportxandru, in solidarity with Xandru Cassar, who spent both Sunday and Monday night camping in front of Castille in a peaceful protest. He ended the protest late last night following a meeting with Abela. Before leaving, Cassar hung a banner saying “Don’t Let Them Drown” outside the Prime Minister’s Office.
On Tuesday, 335 Maltese and foreign academics also called on EU member states to assume responsibility, open their ports and help in rescuing migrants who are in distress.
“The decision to close ports is unlawful. The absence of solidarity between the Member States in meeting their collective moral and legal obligations is reprehensible,” they wrote in a letter, calling on the EU and its member states to immediately open their ports for safe disembarkation and assume shared responsibility. “Urgent action is required to avoid unnecessary loss of life,” they said.
The 20 NGOs also issued a statement on Sunday, saying that Malta must revoke its decision to close its ports to persons rescued at sea, “whoever they are”. The signatories include Aditus, Jesuit Refugee Service, SOS Malta, KOPIN, the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation, Moviment Graffitti, the People for Change Foundation, several migrant associations as well as the Dean’s Office.
Meanwhile, Malta’s Labour government accused sea rescue NGOs of facilitating human trafficking – a line used by Europsceptics that is backed by no evidence.
Maltese NGOs, academics and journalists backing the call for Malta to allow the migrants in stressed that it was unacceptable for the government to shelve its human rights obligations, “endangering the lives of men, women and children”.