Thirty-seven civil society organisations expressed extreme concern about the fate of over 100 men women and children in distress at sea.
Reports over the past few days described how three boats with migrants had been sighted adrift in Maltese SAR zones, with a total of around 270 people on board. A merchant ship was ready to rescue them but was prevented from doing so by Malta, according to the statement.
Sea-Watch International documented how the individuals on two of the boats were rescued by Italian patrol boats and although a third empty boat was eventually spotted by Moonbird, the aerial reconnaissance aircraft of the same NGO, what happened to its passengers remains unclear. Sea-Watch International assumed the individuals disembarked in Lampedusa.
🟥 #Moonbird has found the 3 boats with ~270 people in distress, @alarm_phone had been in contact with. There are no excuses: The merchant vessels #Maridive & #NordicStar, that are in the vicinity, must rescue. We can´t allow another easter of non assistance as last year. pic.twitter.com/xYM1plTNUQ
— Sea-Watch International (@seawatch_intl) April 2, 2021
The 37 organisations reiterated that “every single life matters, and that Malta’s migration concerns in no way justify abandoning people in distress at sea.” The organisations also invited the Maltese authorities to immediately publish all information regarding this particular incident and to commit to a spirit of transparency and accountability for future incidents.
The incident took place on Easter Monday this year and exactly one year ago, also on Easter Monday, the government of Malta was accused of coordinating an illegal push back. The refugees on the boat, including children, were returned to Libya and twelve people died.
Monday’s incident also comes just a few weeks following the publication of a report published by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, that was extremely critical of Maltese government for “being unresponsive to refugees and migrants in distress” in multiple incidents, “jeopardising the right to life of people at sea,” and being complicit in survivors being sent back to Libya.
The report explains how there have been repeated allegations that the Maltese authorities are not answering distress calls from refugees, migrants and even NGOs. When they did respond, they did so “very slowly” or just issued instructions to commercial vessels in the vicinity.
The NGOs’ statement was made on the second anniversary of the murder of Lassana Cisse Souleymane, the 42-year-old father of three who was murdered while walking along Triq tal-Ġebel between Birżebbuġa and Ħal Far after watching football with friends.
To mark the anniversary, the Malta Refugee Council said in a statement that it continues to stand by its brothers and sisters within the migrant community and underscores that although two suspects were arrested shortly afterwards, they have still not been sentenced for this racially motivated hate crime two years later.
Two soldiers, Francesco Fenech, 21, and Lorin Scicluna, 22, have been accused of the murder as well as the attempted murder of another two migrants in a hit-and-run incident on the same road.