In 2020, Malta has failed to protect the human rights of refugees and migrants at sea. The Maltese government’s approach has consisted of avoiding assisting refugees and migrants by taking unlawful measures. These measures have included tactics to arrange pushbacks to Libya, diverting boats with people in distress towards Italy, illegally detaining people on unequipped ferries and signing a new agreement with Libya to prevent people from reaching Malta.

The agreement made with Libya will make it even more difficult for people to free from Libya to reach the search and rescue region (SAR) of Malta. They did this knowing that Libya has inhumane circumstances for migrants, such as maltreatment and abuse of migrants.

The report also shows the delay in attending to distress calls exposing people at the risk of drowning and people who were rescued at sea were denied leaving their ships and were unlawfully kept for weeks on board of private vessels.

The Maltese government is willing to take desperate measures to prevent people arriving on their shores. The case of the ‘Easter Monday pushback’ illustrates this, on 15 April 2020, a group of 51 people were unlawfully returned to Tripoli after being rescued in Malta’s search and rescue region. By ordering this pushback, the Maltese authorities exposed refugees and migrants to further risks to their life.

Amnesty International recommends that Malta promptly assists people in distress in maltha’s SAR and lets people disembark in Malta without delay. An independent and public inquiry into violations of the rights of refugees and migrants at sea in the Maltese SAR region has to be established. With regard to the Easter Monday pushback and to all other reported pushbacks, their failure to rescue migrants, the redirection of migrants’ boat to Italy and the arbitrary detention at sea of approximately 425 people between April and June 2020, Amnesty recommends that thorough, independent and impartial criminal investigations are conducted and that suspects are brought to justice. Adequate reparations to survivors and the families of the victims must be provided. Malta should publicly acknowledge the unlawfulness of the policies and practices which led to the human rights violations described in this report.

Malta should withdraw from the agreement with Libya, any form of cooperation with Libya must focus on protecting the human rights of refugees and migrants. Until this focus cannot be achieved, Malta should demand that Libyan authorities ensure the placement of migrants and refugees in a safe place (and not in Libya) and Malta should cooperate with Libya towards finding such suitable place of safety.

The Maltese authorities must change course and those responsible for violations of human rights must be held accountable.


The violations are part of a wider regional strategy by several countries of containment of refugees and migrants in Libya. The report describes the consequences of this inhumane strategy.

The report also mentions the fact that Eu policies have to change as well. European institutions must encourage cooperation and share responsibility and firmly ensure respect for European and international laws and standards. The mechanisms to prevent human rights violations in the context of external borders’ surveillance must be strengthened.

European states close to the central Mediterranean must be ready to prioritize search and rescue activities and to offer a safe place to disembark people rescued at sea – even during the Covid-19 pandemic. Those more removed from it must be prepared to offer solidarity and support.

The report recommends steps which must urgently be put in place by Malta, Italy and EU member states and institutions, to protect the lives of refugees and migrants in the central Mediterranean.

Source: Amnesty International. (2020, September). MALTA: WAVES OF IMPUNITY.

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