Malta: Do They Know?

Since May 2009, some 1409 migrants, attempting to reach a place where they could obtain protection or the possibility to live in safety and dignity, were pushed back to Libya.

These actions were widely criticised and held by many to be a violation of international law, as Libya does not have the mechanisms in place to grant protection to those who need it and there is evidence that those returned would be at risk of harm.

"International Migrants Day is a good time to ask ourselves whether we are fully aware of the possible consequences of these actions for the people concerned. We believe that many who see this as a quick solution to the pressures that Malta is facing would think differently if they knew about the treatment that migrants face there," said JRS Malta Director, Fr Joseph Cassar SJ.

"Do They Know?" is a collection of testimonies from asylum seekers who were granted protection in Malta, highlighting their experiences of life there. Published by JRS Malta to coincide with International Migrants Day, the testimonies reveal unthinkable hardship many migrants face in Libya, which is almost an obligatory transit country for sub-Saharan Africans fleeing widespread violence and human rights violations in their countries of origin.

JRS Malta believes that returning migrants to Libya, where they cannot obtain effective protection if they need it and where they face a real risk of serious harm, violates international law. We therefore call upon the government to:

• Ensure that all asylum seekers within Malta's effective jurisdiction are allowed to apply for protection.

• Rescue migrants intercepted by the AFM if they have requested assistance, as otherwise their safety cannot be guaranteed.

• Ensure that all those rescued within Malta's Search and Rescue Area are disembarked at a safe port, where those in search of protection can seek asylum.

• Refrain from actions that will result, directly or indirectly, in the return of migrants to a country where they risk suffering serious violations of their fundamental human rights.

"While it is true that migrant boat people attempting the south-north crossing of the Mediterranean are not all necessarily fleeing persecution," Fr Cassar said, "this does not justify returning anyone to a country where her/his life might be seriously at risk. Malta has an obligation to ensure that the rights of all migrants within its effective jurisdiction are protected, regardless of their legal status." He also recalled that more than 50% of asylum seekers reaching Malta and Italy last year were granted some form of protection.

Do They Know? is also available online at

Drawing on the reserve of kindness that many people demonstrate, JRS Malta added that "No authentically human attitude would be insensitive to the immense suffering many of our interviewees have experienced or witnessed," and concluded "Surely, many more people would think differently, if they knew...".