The Armed Forces of Malta had no choice but to rescue 118 migrants from a sinking dinghy yesterday, according to Brigadier Jeffrey Curmi.
“We had no other option. In a case like that, the country is obliged to carry out a rescue operation,” Curmi said in an interview with TVM.
Curmi stressed that, while not every case is the same, this situation had reached a critical level with people’s lives at risk.
“The dinghy was packed with people. There were more people than it could hold and it was sinking and full of water. In this case, it’s classified as a ‘distress’, there’s no other option. Our first priority as the Armed Forces of Malta is to save people,” Curmi said.
Among the 188 migrants saved, ten were women, five were children and there was even a newborn baby onboard.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, soldiers were equipped with PPE equipment to mitigate the spread of the virus and so that they can continue doing their essential work.
Migration has become a central issue once again as a petition against illegal migration garnered over 40,000 signatures, with activists now calling for a referendum on the issue.
“There are a lot of boats leaving Libya,” Curmi said. “The Libyan Coast Guard is doing important work by going out there and saving people but it’s not always the case.”
“Some of them enter the search and rescue region of Malta and it’s our responsibility to pick them up,” he said.
Last month, the government issued a tender for a ship to host irregular migrants for a period of time in an attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
The 118 migrants will be quarantined for two weeks before being transferred to a detention centre.