On August the 5th 2013 at around 1a.m, 46.6 nautical miles from Libyaand 140 nautical miles from Malta, the Liberian-flagged oil tankerSalamis rescues 102 boat-people. This intervention follows Italy’sinstructions to assist their vessel in distress. The Salamiscontinues towards Malta but the army stops it 24 nautical miles fromthe island. Malta orders the shipping company and the captain of the Salamis1to return to Khoms, the vessel’s last port of call and the closestport to the site of the rescue, to disembark the boat-people. Thecaptain refuses and calls for Malta and Italy to accept the migrants,four of whom are pregnant women requiring medical assistance2.
OnAugust the 6th2013, the EuropeanCommission(EC)3orders Malta to allow the migrants to disembark in response to theurgent humanitarian needs of the situation, irrespective of theconflict over responsibility for the boat-people’s search and rescue.The EC recently reminded Malta its obligations with regard to theright to asylum, and in particular the principle of non-refoulement,when the island expressed its intention to push back migrants who hadjust arrived on its shores4.
Thefate of the boat-people of the Salamis is not an isolated case.According to several press articles5,duringthe same night of the 4th to 5th August, a Turkish boat, the Adakent,followed Italian orders by saving 96 boat-people in the zone designated as the Libyan “Search and Rescue” (SAR) area and disembarking them in Tripoli. On June the 29th2013, an Italian oil rig rescued 76 Eritreans and returned them toLibya. They were then detained in the Sibrata Mentega Delila camp inTripoli where conditions are notoriously inhumane. In May 2012, twocommercial vessels also assisted boat-people along the Libyan coastand disembarked the survivors in Tripoli6,once again following instructions from Rome.
These events recall the announcement made by Australia on July the 19th2013 that it would no longer accept boat-people and would push themback or return them to Papua New Guinea “where they will remaineven if their [asylum claim] is accepted”7.Are the Mediterranean states in search of a European Papua New Guineawhere they can offload the boat-people?
Boats4 People notes:
That Malta violates a number of international conventions by labelling Libyan ports as “safe” when numerous reports confirm that migrants in Libya are detained indefinitely in camps where inhumane and degrading treatment is the norm, to the extent that many have died there;
That the Italian justice system has already ruled, following the case of the ship Cap Anamur in 2009, that the captain must be the sole judge of the closest safe port where the boat-people may be disembarked in complete security8;
That Libya, in the throes of serious political instability, is not a signatory to the Geneva Convention on Refugees, and is known for offering no real protection to surviving migrants, whether or not they claim international protection9;
That the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)10has condemned Italy, in the “Hirsi Jamaa” case, for pushing migrants back towards Libya in high seas;
That less than a month ago the ECHR urgently suspended the decision of the Maltese authorities to push back boat-people towards Libya;
That instead of cooperating in the rescue, Italy and Malta continue to reject the possibility of assistance to the boat-people, at the expense of their safety.
Italy and the other European states to cease instructions to disembark potential asylum seekers in Libya, such as the boat-people of the Adakent whose most basic rights are henceforth at risk;
Malta to immediately grant the boat-people from the Salamis the international protection to which they may be entitled;
The European Commission to take measures against states which refuse to disembark asylum seekers, or which instruct ships to disembark boat-people in Libya.
We ask for the notion of a “safeport” to be redefined, so that its interpretation is not limited tothe immediate physical security of the boat-people but takes intoaccount the risks of refoulement and inhumane and degrading treatmentto which the disembarked persons may be exposed.
Boats4People wishes to expressits solidarity with the captain of the Salamis, and asks all of thestates involved to renounce any attempt at prosecuting the former orany other sailor who helps to rescue any boat-people.
Bamako, Rabat, Tunis, Rome,Paris, Tuesday, August the 6th 2013
Press contact: Nicanor Haon(Tunis) +216 52 70 18 71
1 The text of the letter is available online: p. 1 and p. 2
2 For more information, consult “The Times of Malta” dossier [available online]
3 “Commissionner Cecilia Maelström urges Malta to take action” [available online]
4 EC, Malta considering push-backs: statement by Home Affairs Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, 9thJuly 2013 [available online]
5 id. note 2, cf. “The Times of Malta” dossier [available online]
6 La Repubblica, Almeno dieci morti nel Canale di Sicilia. Superstite lancia l’allarme dalle coste libiche, 26th May 2012 [available online]
7 Rue89, L’Australie renvoie son premier boat-people par avion, 1st August 2013 [available online]
8 Ruling of the Agrigente court, 7th October 2009 [available online]
9 For more information, consult the report compiled by FIDH, Migreurop and JSFM entitled “Libya : The hounding of migrants must stop”, November 2012 [available online]
10 ECHR, Hirsi Jamaa and others v. Italy, February the 23rd 2012 [available online]