On Monday, European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen sent a letter to Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela, calling on the government to refrain from taking any action that would lead to the return and disembarkation of rescued migrants to Libya.
Von Der Leyen pointed out that Libya was not safe for migrants, stressing the need to refrain from issuing instructions to ships to disembark people who were rescued and not to blame the Libyan coast guard or related entities.
The Commission has also called on the Maltese authorities to fully comply with human rights laws, including by receiving asylum seekers and refugees crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe.
The Maltese government reaffirmed its obligations based on international maritime law and human rights law by responding effectively and expeditiously to any distress calls coming from the sea.
Italy and Malta have seen a 400% increase in migrant arrivals since the start of the year as the war in Libya intensifies. Both countries have declared their ports unsafe for disembarkation due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
On May 8, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights called for a moratorium on all interceptions by the Libyan coastguard. The UNHCHR said that migrants who were returned to Libya are placed in “arbitrary detention facilities, facing horrendous conditions including torture and ill-treatment, sexual violence, lack of health care and other human rights violations”.