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Malta Denies Passage To Rescue Ship With 47 People, Including 8 Minors, On Board

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A migrant rescue ship with 47 people, including eight minors, on board has sought shelter off the east of Sicily after Malta denied it safe passage.

The Sea-Watch 3 approached Malta last night after Italy refused to allow it to disembark on the tiny island of Lampedusa. However, Sea-Watch volunteer Ruben Neugebauer told Lovin Malta that the ship was forced to proceed northwards and seek shelters in international waters off the Sicilian coast after Malta denied it passage.

“It seems this might be a repeat of the situation we faced last month,” Neugebauer said, referring to how 49 people had been left stranded at sea for 19 days after both Malta and Italy denied it passage. Malta eventually allowed the ship to dock after eight other EU member states, including Italy, agreed to relocate them.

“I understand that Italy and Malta cannot take all these people and agree that the EU should distribute them, not only the ones rescued by NGOs but also the ones who get rescued by the Maltese and Italian authorities and those who arrive by themselves,” he said.

“However, at the same time rescues cannot be subject to negotiations between EU member states.”

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The Sea-Watch 3’s current location. Picture: MarineTraffic

“Imagine an ambulance had to pick people up from a traffic accident but was unable to drive them to hospital because the government was negotiating where the patients will go after their treatment. It sounds ridiculous but this is what’s happening.”

Opposition leader Adrian Delia tweeted that Malta cannot permit another stand-off.

“Where is [Joseph] Muscat’s plan?” he asked. “One-off agreements get us nowhere. Management by crisis is a crisis of management. Human beings matter. We need concrete mechanisms and solidarity from all Member States. [The] EU needs to act.”

A Maltese government spokesperson was not immediately available for comment as of the time of writing. However, Neugebauer said both the Maltese and Italian authorities have informed the Sea-Watch 3 to contact their Libyan counterparts as it had picked up the 49 people close to the Libyan coast.

“We tried to contact the Libyan coastguard on seven phone numbers but only one picked up. However, the man on the phone didn’t speak English and our Arabic translator couldn’t understand his dialect either.”

He added that while the Sea-Watch is willing to coordinate search-and-rescue efforts with the Libyan coastguard, it will refuse to disembark people in the North African country.

This is due to concerns that it would be breaching the ‘non-refoulement’ principle of international law, which forbids sending asylum seekers to countries in which they would likely to be in danger of persecution.

Indeed, Germany’ ambassador to Niger recently flagged the situation in Libyan detention camps as worse than concentration camps.

“There are executions of countless migrants, torture, rapes, bribery and banishment to the desert on a daily basis,” the report says, citing witnesses who spoke of camp guards executing five people a week in an attempt to free up space for new migrants and increase human smugglers’ revenues.

READ NEXT: Maltese NGO Wants The Island’s Migrants To Be Given Voting Rights

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