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08 September 2020 – Malta

Mission Lifeline Boat Rescuing Refugees and Docking Into Maltese Port, (DW,
Mission Lifeline Boat Rescuing Refugees and Docking Into Maltese Port, (DW, "Amnesty Slams Malta over Illegal Refugee Tactics," 8 September 2020,

Having closed its ports to migrants in April, purportedly as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic (see 13 April update on this platform), Malta has continued to refuse permission for migrants rescued in the Mediterranean to disembark in the country. Since 5 August, 27 migrants rescued in the Maltese search-and-rescue area have been stranded on the Danish ship, Maersk Etienne, with Maltese authorities refusing to allow the group to disembark. Amongst the group are one child and one pregnant woman. Despite rapidly deteriorating conditions on-board the commercial shipping vessel, and reports that passengers have jumped overboard in attempts to escape, the Maltese government has denied any responsibility for those on-board the vessel. “While I understand the humanitarian access of migration, I have to understand the interests of the Maltese,” stated PM Robert Abela.

UNHCR, IOM, and ICS (the International Chamber of Shipping) have called for the migrants’ immediate disembarkation. The Secretary-General of ICS stated, “The shipping industry takes its legal and humanitarian obligations to assist people in distress at sea extremely seriously, and has worked hard to ensure that ships are as prepared as they can be when presented with the prospect of large-scale rescues at sea. However, merchant vessels are not designed or equipped for this purpose, and States need to play their part.”

Hours after UNHCR, IOM, and ICS called on Malta and the EU to end the stand-off, Amnesty International published a report decrying Malta’s treatment of migrants and asylum seekers. According to the rights group, ”Malta’s unlawful practices are the by-product of the European Union (EU)’s migration policies which have prioritized reducing arrivals at all costs, and of the EU member states’ continuing failure to agree on a fair system to share responsibilities for arrivals.”

Separately, the Maltese government appears to be moving forward with plans to establish a shipping vessel that will be used to detain migrants and asylum seekers. According to Maltese media outlet “The Shift,” the country’s government has agreed to hire a Cypriot flagged passenger vessel (the MV Galaxy) to use as an offshore detention facility. Reportedly, authorities pushed claims that irregular migrants are bringing Covid-19 to the island nation, presumably to direct attention away from the government’s mishandling of the pandemic. The press outlet reports that “the government tried to shift the blame of the mishandling of the situation on irregular migrants reaching Maltese shores, yet the figures show that the majority of cases started spreading as a result of the lax attitude adopted by the government when opening the airport and supporting massive events to attract tourists even when other countries had exercised caution.”