Malta’s strategy to push migrants back to the conflict zone in Libya has been revealed by a woman who survived a Mediterranean crossing in which 12 people died, according to the Guardian.
A series of voice messages have provided confirmation of the Maltese government’s strategy to use private vessels, acting at the behest of its armed forces, in order to intercept migrant crossings and return refugees to Libyan detention centres.
The woman said the boat on which she was attempting to reach Europe had been intercepted by a ship enlisted by the Maltese authorities which took them back to Tripoli.
The woman’s account matches that of other survivors who have spoken to Alarm Phone, a hotline service for migrants in distress at sea and which raised the case first.
Her boat left the coast of Libya on the night of 9 April, she said. Around 63 people, including a six-week-old baby and a two-year-old girl – most of them from sub-Saharan Africa – were loaded into a dinghy by traffickers at Garabulli, approximately 50km (31 miles) east of Tripoli.
A first ship passed tantalizingly close to them. “The boat was called Medkon Lines,” said the woman, who showed a photograph of the vessel. “We tried to stop it to rescue us. Three men jumped in the water to reach it, but in one minute they disappeared from our sight.
“After five days at sea, a Maltese airplane spotted us,” said the woman, whose identity cannot be revealed for her security. “We thought the plane would call the rescuers, but nobody came. We were feeling so tired and we didn’t even have water or food.”
Four other men, almost unconscious from thirst and hunger, let themselves slide down from the dinghy into the water to drown, she said, before, on 14 April, a trawler under a Maltese flag, the Dar Al Salam 1, reached them.
“The crew of the boat told us they were not rescuers … but said they work for Malta,” the woman said. “They said they were Egyptian and were working at sea for Malta. They were looking at us like we were not human beings.”
The woman’s account was of three boats. She said two migrants died during the interception, and that three others died en route to Libya.
“Once we were aboard the boat, we begged them not to bring us back to Libya. But then they placed us in the stern of the ship and locked themselves in the boat kitchen. They left us inside with four bottles of water. We knocked but they didn’t open. We started to cry and think that they just had lied to us.”
After 48 hours, the migrants’ worst fears were confirmed when the ship arrived in Tripoli. Passengers were moved to the detention centre of Tariq al-Sikka in Tripoli – infamous for torture and abuse – where they remain.
“Maltese authorities’ refusal to rescue these persons amount to a serious breach of international human rights and maritime law,’’ said Giulia Tranchina, human rights lawyer at Wilson Solicitors in London. “The survivors taken back to Libya have been placed again in arbitrary detention in inhumane conditions in the main EU-funded ‘official detention centre’ of Tariq Al Sikka, managed by the Libyan [Directorate for Illegal Migration] police, where male refugees are often tortured in underground cells for months.’’