Italy’s government may charge the officers in Malta’s Armed Forces who refused to rescue 101 asylum seekers in Maltese waters before reportedly turning them away at gunpoint with enough fuel and the coordinates to reach Italy.
The Guardian reports that Sicilian police are now investigating the case and the prosecutor’s office may open up an investigation into the issue. Maltese officers could be charged with aiding illegal immigration.
“The description of the events outlined by the investigations of Avvenire and the Guardian corresponds to what actually emerged following the landing of migrants in Pozzallo.”
“The conduct of the Maltese authorities in this circumstance is in line with an unfortunately not new attitude on the part of Valletta. Maltese authorities have often evaded the obligations set out in international conventions on the subject of rescue at sea,” an Italian government report read.
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 showed people in the water wearing life jackets with an AFM patrol circling around them, rather than rescuing them.
Malta’s Armed Forces did not refute the claims when the story first emerged two weeks ago but maintained it did not place lives at risk.
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.
Around 425 people are currently in limbo on board harbour cruise ships outside Maltese waters. However, the government maintains it will not allow migrants into Malta without an EU relocation policy.
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