JRS Press release: "People are more important"
15 June 2011 (JRS Malta)—In a statement issued today, Jesuit Refugee Service Malta expressed grave concern at the predicament of the 100 men, women and children stranded on board the Almirante Juan de Borbón in worsening conditions, and called upon the States concerned to allow them to disembark immediately pending a final agreement on who will assume responsibility for them.
“It is completely unacceptable that people fleeing from a country in conflict are refused access to a place of safety and left stranded at sea for days, while States decide their fate”, said Fr Joseph Cassar SJ, JRS Malta Director.
According to press reports, the 100 migrants on board the Spanish frigate were rescued from a vessel in distress some 75 miles off the coast of Libya on Monday, after the boat on which they were travelling developed engine trouble. The Spanish vessel sought entry to Lampedusa and Malta to disembark the migrants, but both Italy and Malta refused entry, each claiming that the other is responsible.
“While we understand States’ legitimate concerns regarding the long-term implications of allowing the migrants to disembark on national territory, we believe that people are more important. Attempts to limit the number of irregular arrivals should never be at the cost of human rights,” he added.
This case, like others before it, highlights the lack of clarity surrounding the rules on treatment of irregular migrants rescued at sea. Their situation is further complicated by the operation of the Dublin Regulation, which places responsibility for the protection of asylum seekers entering irregularly on the State where they first enter the Union, making States reluctant to allow potential asylum seekers to disembark on their territory even temporarily.
In view of this, while acknowledging the challenges posed by the arrival of large numbers of irregular migrants, JRS Malta calls upon the governments of Malta, Italy and Spain to give priority to the safety of the migrants stranded on board the Almirante Juan de Borbón, by allowing them to disembark immediately even before a final decision is taken regarding who should assume responsibility for them.
The organisation also called upon the States concerned to ensure that the migrants are allowed access to a country where they can apply for protection if they need it, in line with their international obligations.