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MALTA, COE TRADE BLOWS ON ALLEGED AUGUST MIGRANT DEATHS December 16, 2009

Posted by cristobalgomez in Uncategorized.
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11/12/2009- The Council of Europe and Malta yesterday exchanged blows over the version of events that led to the alleged deaths of some 70 migrants, an incident which five migrants were reported to have survived, in the seas between Libya and Malta last August. Reacting to the publication of letters sent by the COE Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg to both Malta and Libya in the wake of the incident, in which he called for a number of answers of cross border migrant rescue cooperation, the Maltese Justice and Home Affairs Ministry yesterday said it considers the case closed. In its reaction, the ministry observed that the rubber dinghy had been “well inside” Libya’s designated Search and Rescue zone and that it had been carrying five migrants at that point. When an Armed Forces of Malta vessel approached the dinghy, the ministry said, the five migrants aboard were in “good spirits and good health”. Moreover, the migrants had refused assistance and had insisted on proceeding toward Lampedusa in the dinghy, which the ministry reiterated “was in a good condition and seaworthy”. Furthermore, the ministry insisted, an aerial photograph published after the incident by the AFM showed no evidence the dinghy had been carrying a large number of migrants as alleged. As such, the ministry added, the AFM crew were left with no other option other than to provide the migrants with the humanitarian assistance required – food, water, fuel and lifejackets – after which the dinghy continued its voyage on its own steam. The ministry pointed out, “It should also be made absolutely clear that forcefully rescuing the occupants of the dinghy against their express wishes and in the absence of a real and imminent danger of loss of life, would be illegal.” The AFM surface vessel continued monitoring the dinghy so as to be in a position to intervene should its occupants require any assistance or rescue. On the morning of 20 August, the day after the initial spotting, and as the dinghy was approaching Italian territorial waters, the Maltese authorities informed the Italian authorities of its presence. The dinghy was then intercepted by a patrol boat of the Italian Guardia di Finanza and its occupants taken ashore to Lampedusa. “It must be noted that at no time did the AFM patrol boat lose contact with the dinghy from the moment it was intercepted until the immigrants were recovered by the Guardia di Finanza,” the ministry said. It added that, “From the timeline of events, it is amply evident that the Maltese authorities acted well within their international obligations and standards of conduct at sea. The action taken by the Maltese authorities in this case proved effective since the five occupants in the dinghy that was first spotted, all made it to land safely.”
© The Malta Independent

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