Relatives of asylum seekers who died at sea file judicial protest against Abela

The relatives of two asylum-seekers who died at sea in April have filed a judicial protest in Malta’s Courts against Prime Minister Robert Abela, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri and AFM Brigadier Jeffrey Curmi.

Mogos Tesfamichael Welday (pictured bottom right) and Filimon Mensteab Ghebremedhin (not pictured) were two of the 12 victims who lost their lives at sea during a fatal rescue operation involving a fishing boat with a Libyan flag. In that same incident, which happened a few days after Easter, the 51 surviving passengers on board the vessel were returned to war-torn Libya.

Migrants who drowned Apr 2020

The migrants Malta left to drown: Filimon Bashay, Hdru Yemane, Omer Seid, Debesay Rusom, Huruy Yohannes, Mogos Tesfamichael. Photo: Avvenire.

The incident occurred shortly after Malta followed in Italy’s footsteps and decided to close its ports, citing coronavirus.

In the judicial protest, Welday’s and Ghebremedhin’s siblings, two Eritrean nationals living in Holland and Sweden respectively, are accusing the government of failing to meet international obligations, causing the death of their relatives. 

On Wednesday, Fthawi Tesfamichael Welday and Asfaha Letenugus Amelesom signed the judicial protest which said that between 9 and 16 April 2020, Malta was involved in surveillance operations within their designated zones and involved in the rescue operations of migrants within Malta’s search and rescue zone, therefore falling under the responsibility of the State.

The boat left Malta as an agent of the State, specifically to save and offer its assistance to the migrant boat that was in distress and because the Maltese government claimed that its resources had reached maximum capacity, the relatives said.

The boat had to follow instructions from the Maltese State in this operation as obliged by international law, and the mission went against Malta’s obligation to deliver the migrants to a safe port, the judicial protest continued. 

The death of Mogos and Filimon occurred as a consequence of this operation run by Maltese authorities and from the shortcomings of the Maltese State ignoring its international obligations. The judicial protest listed treaties related to such international obligations.

It added that Ghebremedhin and Welday had valid reasons to seek asylum, and therefore, their rights were also denied by the government, resulting in the violation of Article 2 of the Convention of Human Rights, as well as the violation of other international obligations.

In a statement following the incident in April, 20 Maltese NGOs had said that Malta was legally and morally responsible for protecting the lives of those who requested help while in the country’s waters.

“Instead, the government chose to play political games, resulting in needless and cruel loss of life. This is a terrible day for Malta, for human rights and for our nation’s legacy,” they said.

Following the revelations, The New York Times reported that former government official Neville Gafa was enlisted by the government that same night to use his connections in Libya to ensure the safe passage of the trawler boats to Libya. Gafa had been asked by the Maltese prime minister’s chief of staff, Clyde Caruana, to help coordinate the operation.

Civil Society NGO Repubblika also filed two criminal complaints stating that Abela, the army commander and 11 soldiers were responsible for the death of 12 migrants at sea.


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