Archbishop Charles Scicluna delivered a powerful speech at a vigil in honour of Loujin, a four-year-old girl who reportedly died of thirst within Malta’s search and rescue zone, chastising the authorities for not doing enough.
Addressing a crowd, Scicluna pointed out that Loujin’s reported last words – “I am thirsty” – were similar to those uttered by Jesus as he took his final breaths on the cross.
“The first reports I received were from a NGO and I thought that this girl, in the mystery of suffering, was passing through the same thing we had made Jesus pass through,” Scicluna said. “I am thirsty… not just a cry of physical thirst but of a thirst for love and solidarity.”
“This places a huge responsibility on society. It is easy to walk through the streets during a Good Friday procession with Jesus’ words on a banner. However, it’s not a banner we see before us now but the last words of a girl who we allowed to die because we were too late to do what had to be done.”
Loujin was part of a group of Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian migrants who recently sailed from Lebanon to Italy when their boat ran into trouble in the central Mediterranean, within Malta’s search and rescue zone, but off 450 nautical miles off Malta and 70NM off Crete.
Activist group Alarm Phone, which said it was in touch with the migrants via a satellite phone, has criticised the Maltese, Greek and Italian authorities for not responding to its repeated requests to launch a rescue mission.
However, the Armed Forces of Malta said that as soon as they were informed of the case, they immediately contacted the Greek authorities to evacuate the migrants to Crete, as the nearest place of safety in line with international conventions.
The AFM warned that, because Malta was so far away from the scene, more migrants could have died if their boat wasn’t immediately sent to Crete.
However, Scicluna argued that the Maltese authorities had a legal and moral duty to directly intervene as soon as they were informed of Loujin’s case, arguing that Malta’s extensive SAR zone – which is roughly the size of the UK and stretches from the Tunisian coast to close to Crete – comes with significant responsibility.
“We didn’t only fail in terms of international law but in terms of civility too. We have become less civil as a result of what we allowed to happen. Pointing fingers at others is easy but we must shoulder responsibility as a society. As [former President] Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca said, it is easy to say that Europe isn’t doing enough but as a country and a state, we must do the essential.”
“When we accepted an extensive SAR area in the Mediterranean, we didn’t only do so to benefit from tariffs of ships that pass through it but also to take on certain obligations.”
“We can’t just enjoy the advantages without honouring our fundamental obligations… that when someone sends an SOS, you act straight away or authorise nearby ships to do so.”
“The information I have is that this isn’t what happened in this case, and we expect an explanation in Parliament – why didn’t this take place and what is the government’s real policy? If its policy is to close our eyes to the cries of our siblings, then it is a shameful policy. We are here to say ‘Not In our Name’ and that we expect better.”
Do you think the Maltese authorities should have done more to save Loujin’s life?