Tuesday

22nd May 2018

Outrage over Malta's plan to kick out asylum seekers

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg has blocked Malta from a "push-back" of Somalian asylum seekers.

It issued the injunction on Tuesday (9 July) amid plans by authorities to put 45 of the would-be refugees under police guard on flights to Mitiga in Libya.

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  • Valetta. Muscat said: 'Our position has reaped the necessary results' (Photo: European Commission)

They are part of a group of 102 men, women and infants picked up by the Maltese coastguard earlier the same day after crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

Malta last week rescued 291 people in similar circumstances.

It said on Tuesday that two more boat-fulls of people are on their way, one of them carrying 68 people, including a woman who gave birth on board and who needs medical attention.

The ECHR took the step after Maltese NGOs filed a complaint.

It came after a statement by the European Commission earlier the same day failed to make an impact.

Home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom had told Malta it risks violating both EU and international law on "non-refoulement" if it does not give people the chance to file asylum requests and does not give their applications due consideration.

"The European Commission will use all the tools at its disposal to make sure member states fully respect their obligations in this regard. We also stand ready to increase our support to Malta if it should face growing migratory pressure," she said.

For his part, the country's centre-left Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, defended his actions in parliament.

He said he was acting in the national interest and that EU institutions had ignored Malta's previous appeals for help.

"The [EU] commission … said it was ready to discuss offering Malta more assistance as news came in that we were considering all options. I'd say that this was a concrete example that our position has reaped the necessary results," he said, according to the Maltatoday news agency.

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil said Muscat's actions are "objectionable morally, legally and politically" and accused him of "tarnishing our reputation in Europe."

According to the US-based NGO Human Rights Watch, migrants in Libya risk forced labour and police brutality.

Somalian nationals are also entitled to protection because their country is in a state of civil war.

In related events, the Greek coastguard on Wednesday rescued over 130 people, 38 of whom are children, of Afghan and Syrian origin, after their boat began to sink near the Greek island of Crete.

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The EU saw the highest number of asylum seekers come from Russia at the beginning of this year, with Syrians following closely behind.

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A British consultancy will make millions for helping Malta to create EU citizens-on-paper, amid questions on conflict of interest and national security.

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Defining what constitutes 'rule of law' violations may be more difficult than the EU Commission proposes, as it tries to link cohesion funds in east Europe to judicial independence. A key question will be who is to 'judge' those judges?

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