Malta’s Armed Forces has not refuted claims that one of its vessels had refused to rescue 101 asylum seekers in Maltese waters before providing them with equipment and coordinates to reach Italy. However, they insisted that they did not place “their lives in additional risk”.
According to a report by NGO Alarm Phone and The Guardian, asylum seekers on the boat said the AFM had intercepted the vessel close to Malta on 11th April, the same Easter weekend six people died in Maltese waters and six others went missing.
However, rather than picking them up, the boat was given fuel and a new engine, and those onboard were told to head towards Pozzallo, Sicily. Pozzallo Mayor Roberto Ammatuna was even surprised they made it all the way to Sicily on their flimsy vessel on 12th April, suspecting traffickers might have been involved.
“They gave us red life vests, a new engine and fuel and told us they would show us the route to Italy. Then they pointed guns at us and said: ‘We give you 30 minutes’,” asylum seekers have claimed.
A video published by Alarm Phone shows people in the water wearing life jackets with an AFM patrol circling around them, rather than rescuing them. The AFM is also facing claims that it made “dangerous manoeuvres” close to people in the water, further endangering their lives.
Contacted by Lovin Malta following a report, the AFM first said:
“The Armed Forces of Malta adopts measures to preserve the safety of life at sea at all times and at no point are the lives of those involved placed in any additional risk. On the contrary, the AFM often has to adopt steps to mitigate as far as possible or counter the danger occasioned by the migrants themselves.”
“Throughout the years, the Armed Forces of Malta have rescued thousands of migrants from drowning at sea. It is also noted that this is not the first time that false and unfounded allegations are made on the Armed Forces of Malta, recently including by means of paid adverts in the media.”
Given the unclear reply, Lovin Malta specifically asked whether or not they can deny the allegations made and the published footage. However, an AFM spokesperson repeatedly said:
“We will not comment.”
Migration has emerged as a significant issue during the COVID-19 pandemic. Malta, Spain, and Italy have declared the ports unsafe due to the pandemic. Libya has also closed its ports due to the ongoing civil war.
Over 150 people are currently in limbo on board Captain Morgan vessels outside Maltese waters. However, the government maintains it will not allow migrants into Malta without an EU relocation policy.
A survey conducted by Lovin Malta indicates that most Maltese people believe that the country should reopen its doors to asylum seekers once the COVID-19 pandemic is over. However, one in four remain adamant that we should stop rescuing migrants forever.
What do you make of the AFM’s statement? Comment below