Malta Rejects Call By Amnesty On Immigration

Malta rejects call by Amnesty on immigration

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Current Affairs — 27 May 2009 — 21:25CEST

Amnesty International has urged Malta to amend its laws to maintain the integrity of the search and rescue services and to ensure that fundamental rights of persons in distress are more effectively protected. This was a call which Malta has once again rejected.

In a letter sent by Amnesty International to the Minister for Justice and Home Affairs Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, it mentioned the Pinar case last April where 140 third country nationals who were in danger of drowning, were not allowed to enter neither Malta nor Italy, and were left stranded for four days. It also mentioned that on April 30, Italy did not allow a Maltese coastguard vessel disembark 66 third country nationals in Lampedusa.

Amnesty said that under the law of the sea, states are obliged to help those in distress at sea and arrange for their prompt disembarkation in a place of safety. The responsibility to rescue those in distress at sea has become universally recognised and is to be considered as customary international law.

It said that in 2004 amendments to the SAR and SOLAS Conventions were adopted. These amendments clarified the obligations of a stated in whose search and rescue area persons or vessels in distress are found to coordinate rescue operations up to the point where rescued people are delivered to a safe place.

Amnesty said that it was aware that Malta had raised objections to these amendments as they could be interpreted that they impose on a country the obligation to disembark on its own territory and assist all those rescued in its SAR region.

It continued, Amnesty International has previously called on Malta to accept the amendments to the SAR and SOLAS Convention.

Amnesty said, The place of safety should be one in which they are given access to a full asylum procedure, right to an effective remedy and protection against non refoulement.

The organisation urges all governments to cooperate closely to ensure that those rescued at sea are immediately brought to a place of safety, while fully respecting the principle of non refoulement not sending them back to countries where they may be at risk of torture or other ill-treatment or where access to a fair and satisfactory asylum procedure is limited.

Amnesty International acknowledges the problems EU member states such as Malta and Italy are facing with regard to the Mediterranean Sea crossings and believes that steps need to be taken to ensure that solidarity between member states is enhanced. However the lack of agreement on such solidarity measures should never be used as an excuse for EU member states to implement border control policies that are violating fundamental rights of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees, it concluded.

In his reply Minister Mifsud Bonnici replied that Malta has been experiencing disproportionate migratory pressures since 2002, when over 1,600 persons arrived illegally by boat. In 2008 this figure went up to a record of 2,775 persons and this year the number stands at 857.

You are certainly also aware of the fact that Malta, in full accordance with its international obligations and the pertinent UNHCR recommendations, awards international protection to over 50% of asylum applicants. This assumes particular significance when considering that during 2008 Malta receied up to 6.4 asylum applications per 1,000 inhabitants the highest figure for any industrialised country. There is therefore not question about Maltas commitment towards its asylum obligations, even in the face of the difficulties currently being faced.

Regarding the SAR and SOLAS Convention, Dr Mifsud Bonnici stated, I would like to express a measure of surprise at your call for Malta to accept the 2004 amendments to the SAR and SOLAS Convention. And please, this is not a matter of customary law, but plain public international treaty law which a country adheres to only if it has signed… You are surely aware that Malta, as a sovereign state, has willingly chosen not to be party to these amendmentsWe consider that the framework within which operations are conducted within Maltas Search and Rescue serves the best interests of the persons rescued, as escorting these persons to the nearest port ensures that any necessary immediate assistance required on land is delivered at the earliest possible.

He continued, Surely it is clear to all that Maltas acceptance of the 2004 amendments would directly result in rescued persons having to remain on board the rescuing vessel for considerably longer periods of time something which, according to your correspondence, you are manifestly against.”

Finally I note that this is the first time that you are on record acknowledging the problems we face. It would not be amiss to solicit pro-active proposals from your part such that the solidarity you advocate be put in practice, Minister Mifsud Bonnici concluded.