More migrants have been dragged out of Malta’s search and rescue area and taken back to detention centres in Libya under inhuman and degrading conditions. Saturday, 72 migrants were picked up in Malta’s area of responsibility at sea by Libyan coast guards and taken back to Tripoli.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees repeated the complaint that Libya does not have safe harbours in which migrants are to be received.

In a separate incident last night two Sudanese migrants were killed and three others injured in a shooting at the Khums disembarkation point in Libya, after being intercepted at sea and returned to shore by the coast guard.

Staff from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Khums, reported that local authorities started shooting when the migrants attempted to escape from the disembarkation point. The injured migrants were transferred to local hospitals while survivors were moved to detention.

The incident is a reflection of the poor safety standards and the inhuman treatment of migrants by the Libyan authorities.

And yet the governments of Malta and Italy continue to coordinate with the Libyan authorities the forced return of migrants. Malta is allowing the Libyan coast guard to enter Malta’s search and rescue area to fish out migrants that the countries authorities ignore for several days.

Italian newspaper La Repubblica in a front page feature today reported that Malta and Italy have adopted a silent strategy to reduce the number of incoming migrants leaving Libya. On the surface the two countries have agreements with the Libyan and Tunisian governments and gift the two countries with European money to pay for their coast guard infrastructure. The schemes however ignore international conventions that oblige Malta and Italy to rescue anyone at risk at sea. Instead the two countries are ignoring hundreds of men, women and children without food and water stuck at sea for days. They call the Libyan authorities and wait for them to arrive in their own sweet time.

La Repubblica called these ‘disguised pushbacks’.

On several occasions NGO Alarm Phone said Malta’s Armed Forces ignored repeated calls to alert them of the location of migrants in distress. Then without warning Libyan coast guard show up and haul the migrants back to the hell of the Libyan war-torn coast and the grotesque conditions of their concentration camps.

The Association for Juridical Studies on Migration (ASGI) and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) announced today that they have filed a complaint against Italy, Malta and Libya with the UN Human Rights Committee on behalf of two individuals whose right to leave war-torn Libya was violated by the interception and pull-back carried out by the Libyan Coast Guard with the cooperation of Italian and Maltese authorities.

The incident refers to a push-back to Libya in coordination with the Libyan coast guard that happened in October of last year. However the legal assessment of that case is expected to have a bearing on the ongoing illegal practice of allowing the Libyan authorities to drag migrants out of Maltese waters into Libyan concentration camp.

On Friday 18 October 2019, in the early afternoon, Alarm Phone was contacted by an overcrowded boat in distress, carrying approximately 50 migrants. They had fled from Libya and were in the Maltese Search and Rescue (SAR) zone, very close to Lampedusa. The Maltese and Italian authorities were immediately informed of the SAR event. However, despite the dangerous situation, Malta and Italy did not activate any search and rescue operation to save the life of the shipwrecked and decided to wait for the arrival of the Libyan Coast Guard.

After many terrifying hours at sea, the Libyan patrol boat Fezzan – supplied by Italy in the framework of Italian/Libyan cooperation – intercepted the migrants on the leaking boat.

Italy and Malta failed to take urgent measures to ensure the necessary assistance and disembark the survivors in a “place of safety”– which Libya undoubtedly is not. As a consequence of such a lack of intervention, the survivors, including the complainants, were pulled-back to Libya and beaten up to force them to disembark in a country they had desperately strived to flee from. Indeed, in Libya, migrants are notoriously exploited, abused, traded, ransomed, or deported illegally. Reports of migrants and refugees attempting to leave Libya who are knowingly left to die at sea, starving or drowning, detained on boats for days in unbearable conditions, or pushed back illegally, continue to emerge repeatedly.

The complaint by the two organisations argues that Italy, Malta and Libya are breaching their obligations under international law– in violation of Article 6 (Right to Life), Article 7 (The Prohibition of Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment), Article 9(1): Right to liberty, including the prohibition of arbitrary or unlawful arrest or detention), and Article 12.2 (Right to leave any country) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – as they were subjected to arbitrary and unlimited detention as well as repeated interceptions and pull-backs conducted by Libyan authorities.

Italy and Malta contributed to the violation by means of the comprehensive technical, economic, logistical, and political support given to Libya to make it the principal outpost for the containment of migratory flows to Europe, and through their role in delegating the rescue operation of 18 October 2019 to Libyan authorities – an operation that ended with the pull-back of the claimants to Libya.

In the meantime relatives and victims of the Easter 2020 incidents in Maltese territorial waters are also considering their legal options after an inquiry by Magistrate Joe Mifsud had found no wrongdoing in the actions of the Maltese authorities.

In the meantime news emerged today in a report by Newsbook that Malta’s Foreign Ministry has asked the local police to investigate threats made by Neville Gafà on Twitter a few weeks ago to Avvenire journalist Nello Scavo. Nello Scavo has been investigating the scheme of push-backs from Maltese and Italian waters into Libyan concentration camps.

In his comments to Newsbook, Neville Gafà once again openly confessed to having a protagnist’s role in the push back of migrants to Libya. “I do this so that our country will not be overrun by an influx of irregular migrants,” he said.