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AYS Daily Digest 29/05/20- Italy Considers Charges Over Malta’s Treatment of Refugees

Illegal pushbacks by Greece // Forced evictions of refugees // UNHCR’s Special Envoy comments on NGO rescue boats // Malta Libya relations

@alarm_phone

Feature

Following an unannounced trip by Prime Minister Robert Abela, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri and Foreign Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo to Tripoli, the Maltese government have announced that they will be working with their Libyan counterparts to set up units to coordinate operations against illegal migration.

During the meeting, both leaders spoke about the need to strengthen cooperation to ensure that lives are not lost at sea and to combat human traffickers on the ground and at sea. The Times of Malta reports that discussions centred on the need for the EU to train the Libyan coastguard further, obtaining funding for reception camps operated by the UN, as well as to build a realistic strategy to slow down the flow of migrants into Libya.

The strengthening of relationships between Malta and Libya should be viewed with some scepticism. Both countries have been plagued by allegations of human rights violations and illegal pushbacks. On Wednesday the IOM confirmed that Malta garnered the assistance of a German commercial ship under a Portuguese flag, to return 98 people to war-torn Libya. The UN confirmed that, in an unrelated incident, two of the 315 people that had been ‘rescued’ some days prior and returned to Tripoli had died.

For the refugees who are apprehended and not returned to Libya, hundreds are now being held ‘hostage’ on the Captain Morgan vessel outside Maltese territorial waters. The current number of people being held on this boat is 425. Amnesty International stated in an open letter to the Maltese Prime Minister, “Nothing can justify holding people for days without legal basis and in inadequate conditions. Ferry boats are not suited for long stays nor can they cater for the needs of people rescued at sea. The need to avoid the spreading of Covid-19 is no excuse to impose unnecessary, inhumane and discriminatory measures against traumatized people, such as denying their disembarkation. Lack of solidarity by other EU Member States cannot justify their arbitrary detention either.”

Following an incident in which the Maltese armed forces turned away at gunpoint a small rubber boat carrying 101 migrants & refugees, and thereby prevented them from entering Maltese waters, Italy is now considering to open an investigation against Malta. On Thursday the Italian government released a new report that confirms the behaviour of the Maltese government and states: “The conduct of the Maltese authorities in this circumstance is in line with an unfortunately not new attitude on the part of Valletta.’’. The report adds that the “Maltese authorities have often evaded the obligations set out in international conventions on the subject of rescue at sea”. The Guardian approached the Maltese armed forces and government for a comment but they have yet to respond.

Greece

Aegean Boat Report have recorded another incident of an illegal pushback by the Greek coast guard of a boat carrying approximately 40 people.

Equal Rights Beyond Borders shared a new report that shows that Greece and the EU are grossly unprepared for an outbreak of Covid-19 in the Vial refugee camp, on Chios island. The report cites ‘critical shortages of water, sanitary facilities and medical services’; ‘elderly and immuno-compromised individuals living in the camp without proper areas to isolate’; and ‘overcrowding that makes social distancing impossible.’

To read their full report, please follow the link below:

Refugees who have received international protection are being forced to leave apartments for vulnerable people in the Emergency Support to Integration & Accommodation programme (ESTIA), hotels under the Temporary Shelter and Protection programme (FILOXENIA), Reception and Identification Centres (RICs) and refugee camps. Almost simultaneously, financial assistance in the form of EU implemented and supported cash cards will stop. These upcoming measures will affect the livelihood of at least 4,800 people who need to leave ESTIA accommodation, 3,500 people who need to leave RICs and hosting facilities, as well as 1,200 refugees who are self-accommodated and receive cash assistance.

At least 8,300 people need to leave their accommodation by the end of May, and only a small percentage are provided with integration support (including rental subsidies) through the HELIOS programme. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that people are almost simultaneously losing cash assistance from the cash card assistance programme. Although both ESTIA and HELIOS programmes are funded by Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs (DG HOME) and implemented by the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum, there is no linkage between the two programmes to ease the transition from one to the other. As a result, a considerable number of vulnerable people will be left without any support or prospect of integration and will have to face a severely increased risk of becoming homeless. Bureaucratic obstacles have meant that many of these people do not have a tax number or a bank account, both necessary to get a job or rent an apartment. Indeed, according to UNHCR, only 7 per cent of recognised refugees in the ESTIA programme have a bank account and 75 percent have a tax number. To make matters worse, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible for people to find employment, alternative housing or arrange documentation for the HELIOS integration programme.

In the wake of this decision, a new grassroots organisation has formed protesting against the evictions. In their first open letter, “Not Leaving My Home” write:

“Helios is a program from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). I.O.M are the same organisation that go to detention centres and prisons telling migrants they will pay their ticket and more if they want to go back to where they came from. Go back where? The the hell we came from? They say this to people who are already detained and imprisoned for only one ‘crime’: having no papers. For us this is NOT Voluntary Return. It Is INHUMANITY.

Helios says, “We have no money for everyone who will be evicted.” We migrants also have no money. No money to rent a house or to put a contract in our name. Helios is only 6 months and the money is not enough even to buy food. How can we also pay electricity and water bills? How can we pay for medication when we have no healthcare support. We can’t find work, we don’t know the language and every day we are faced with racist and nationalistic behaviour.

We are humans. We have dignity.
We believe in equality and justice.
HELIOS IS NOT A SOLUTION.

Tunisia

InfoMigrants have reported that Tunisia had prevented several departures of migrants to Italy. The Tunisian National Guard confirmed that they stopped 49 people in the Sfaz and Nabeul governorates, but despite the efforts of the Tunisian authorities, 71 people had successfully managed to reach Italy from Tunisia.

Tunisian National Guard stated that the Coast Guard had acted in two separate incidents to stop people leaving Tunisia. In the first incident, people were charged with preparing an operation of illegal migration with three being subsequently taken into custody. In the second incident, the coast guard apprehended 21 people, including women, on a boat heading towards Italy. All individuals were reported to the Judiciary.

Mediterranean

InfoMigrants spoke to Vincent Cochetel, the UNHCR’s special envoy for the Central Mediterranean. In the interview, they spoke about migrant rescue ships no longer being allowed to operate in the Mediterranean, the current situation in Malta and the situation for migrants in Libya.

Talking about the current situation in Malta where hundreds of migrants are stuck on board a private vessel, Cochetel explained: “Malta is refusing to let them come ashore by arguing that it doesn’t have the capacity to take in any more migrants, but regardless, you have to be able to free up the necessary resources to help these people.” He further added that “we [the UNHCR] understand that Malta is a small country with a small population. And so we understand that it has limits and constraints. But sea rescues correspond to basic humanitarian principles. People who have been rescued at sea must be brought to land.”

In the interview, InfoMigrants raised the issue of the seizure of the Alan Kurdi and the Aita Mari vessels by the Italian authorities, leaving no rescue ships operating in the Mediterranean. In response, Cochetel said that due to their important role in rescue operations, he was worried about their absences. He stated “In Europe, we hear that NGO rescue ships contribute to trafficking because they help encourage migrants to leave Libya. But at the moment, it’s clear that despite the lack of NGO rescue ships in the Mediterranean, the departures from Libya continue. If European states don’t want to take responsibility for sea rescues, they should at least let aid groups do so.”

When questions about the current situation for migrants in Libya, Cochetel explained that after a huge departure of migrant boats, its estimated that in the next few days ‘between 200 and 300 people are expected to be brought back into detention’ in Libya.

To read the full interview between InfoMigrants Vincent Cochetel, the UNHCR’s special envoy for the Central Mediterranean, please see the link below:

Sea

Alarm phone has reported that over the past 6 days 9 boats in the central Mediterranean had reached out to Alarm Phone. 3 boats made it to Italy, 2 were rescued by Malta but forced into so-called ‘water prisons’ in which they are detained on board private ships of the Maltese coast and 4 were returned to war-torn Libya. Of the ~660 people who called Alarm Phone, ~315 reached Europe and ~345 were sent back to a warzone.

Libya

Following yesterdays reports of the murder of 30 migrants the IOM is now calling on the Libyan authorities to immediately launch an investigation to bring those responsible to justice.

The tragedy occurred is a smuggling warehouse in Mezda, near the city of Gharyan, southwest of Tripoli where a group of migrants were being held. Eleven migrants who sustained severe injuries have been rushed to the hospital.

In their statement, they write that “this senseless crime is a bleak reminder of the horrors migrants have to endure at the hands of smugglers and traffickers in Libya.” The IOM estimates that 3,980 refugees who attempted to flee the country so far this year have been returned by the Libyan Coastguard. Nineteen people have drowned and at least 130 are still missing in the central Mediterranean.

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Are You Syrious?

Are You Syrious?

Daily news digests from the field, mainly for volunteers and refugees on the route, but also for journalists and other parties.