250 migrants pushed back from Maltese waters ‘rescued’ by Haftar’s militia

The pushback to Benghazi happened shortly after a Maltese delegation visited Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi to talk about migration coordination.


The 250 irregular migrants pushed back to Libya last weekend in a search and rescue operation that Malta reportedly insisted on coordinating were intercepted by the militia of Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar illegally and taken to Benghazi.

The development comes a little over a month after a high-level Maltese delegation visited Benghazi and met with Haftar to discuss migration issues and capacity building.

The operation also involved Frontex drones stationed in Malta that are regularly used to inform the Libyan authorities of the locations of migrant vessels so they can be intercepted and returned to Libya.

A reporter from the Euractiv website was aboard the SOS Mediterranee’s Ocean Viking rescue ship during the operations that began on 7 July when the fishing vessel with 250 people aboard ran out of fuel and was adrift around 140 nautical miles from Malta.

The Ocean Viking had first been dealing with the case at the request of the Italian authorities, but Malta assumed operational control of the situation since the vessel was in its search and rescue area.

The Ocean Viking reportedly received the alert when it was in the process of rescuing two other vessels with 57 people aboard in the international waters between Libya and Malta.

When the 57 survivors were brought onboard the Ocean Viking, it started making its way toward the fishing boat in distress, which was about 10 hours of navigation away.

The Italian authorities had instructed the Ocean Viking to proceed to the vessel and to bring the migrants to the assigned port of Civitavecchia, which is about four days of navigation from the scene.

But later in the day, Italy called the Ocean Viking off the case because it said Malta wanted to assume coordination of the rescue.

By the evening, a vessel owned by Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar had arrived. According to the reporter on board, Maltese authorities were heard giving the Libyans repeated instructions not to proceed with the interception, which Haftar’s men ignored.

The vessel that undertook the pushback was identified by Sea Watch as being part of the Tariq Ben Zayed militia group that operates under Haftar.

The 250 migrants eventually disembarked in Benghazi.

Benghazi pushback follows Maltese meetings with Haftar

At the end of May, a high-level Maltese delegation led by Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and Trade Christopher Cutajar and Cabinet Secretary Ryan Spagnol held a series of meetings in Tripoli and Benghazi.

They were accompanied by the Armed Forces of Malta Commander Clinton O’Neill,  Malta’s Special Envoy for Migration and former prison boss Alex Dalli, Special Envoy for Migration, Malta’s Ambassador to Libya Charles Saliba and other high-level officials.  ​

In Benghazi, the delegation was received by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar at the General Command Headquarters.

According to the Department of Information, “The meeting focused on security challenges that both Malta and Libya are facing in the region, particularly that of irregular migration, and it was agreed to extend engagement with the Navy and Coast Guard, whereby substantial talks were held during this visit.

“It was agreed to address this shared challenge and to hold further technical discussions to address needs related to capacity building.”

In Tripoli, the meetings were held “to consolidate the cooperation already in place between the Maltese and Libyan counterparts in the field of security, border control and irregular migration, reflected in information exchange and training of Libyan officials”.

The two sides also explored new avenues of cooperation, especially given the renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding on Migration signed in 2020 and the setting up of a Joint Committee to enhance working-level contacts between the different services.

The issue of migrant pushbacks to Libya MEPs has raised the ire of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee and the Subcommittee on Human Rights, who are demanding answers from the European Commission about how and what the European Union is funding crimes against humanity and war crimes being perpetrated by Libya against migrants who are returned to its shores.

They now want answers about the EU’s migration-related Libya funding and for activities carried out in Libya in the past years. They are calling for an “urgent review” of the EU’s approach towards Libya and the rights of migrants.

MEPs were alarmed after being briefed on the final report of the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya, which concluded there were grounds to believe a wide array of war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed by State security forces and armed militia groups.

The UN report provides overwhelming evidence of the deliberate torture and sexual enslavement of migrants in Libya.

They fear the EU is simply funding pushbacks to torture in Libya, a practice in which Malta is heavily complicit. They are demanding a review of EU migration-related funding and an explanation of activities carried out in Libya in the past years.

They also say there should be clear-cut conditionality for EU funds going toward operations involving Libya.

The UN mission’s report points out that there is “technical, logistical, and monetary support from the EU for inter alia the interception and return of migrants to Libya”.

The committees’ MEPs now demand more transparency from the Commission, stressing that it should be consistently discussed whether EU action, in this particular case, has been guided by the values and principles at the core of the EU’s external policies.

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2 months ago

What is Dalli the ex Gun totting Jail Master doing in Libja , signing secret MOU’s with illegal immigrants traffickers?

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