BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Authorities in the European island nation of Malta have contested allegations a day earlier by a group of nongovernmental organizations that a migrant boat was in trouble.
“After multiple confirmations of the reported position through multiple searches, no boat was sighted in the reported position,” the Armed Forces of Malta said in an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday.
On Monday, four rescue groups were operating in the central Mediterranean. Maltese authorities charged to coordinate the return of nearly 500 people to eastern Libya where they were later imprisoned, in violation of international maritime law.
The group of migrants, including 55 children and pregnant women, were trying to reach Europe aboard a rusting iron fishing vessel on May 23 when they reported on the alarm phone – which was in distress. There is a hotline for stranded migrants – that they are drowning in water, according to the NGO.
Communicating via satellite phone, the migrants repeatedly shared their GPS location with the alarm phone, indicating they were in international waters within Malta’s area of responsibility for search and rescue. .
Alarmphone says it has repeatedly informed Maltese authorities of its position and distress, but has received no confirmation that a rescue operation has been launched. Humanitarian aid ships and ships also searched for the ship in vain. On the morning of May 24, the alarm phone lost contact with the migrants.
Two days later, Alarmphone says relatives of the migrants reported they had been returned to Benghazi, Libya and imprisoned.
The International Organization for Migration and the United Nations refugee agency told The Associated Press that 485 people were brought back to Benghazi by a ship belonging to the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army, which is controlled by military commander Khalifa Haftar in the east of the country. There is a force in leadership.
IOM spokeswoman Safa Mashhali said the migrants were taken to the Qanfuda detention center, but could not confirm that it was the same group of people reported by the alarm phone.
Both UN agencies have repeatedly condemned the return of migrants and refugees to Libya, saying that the lawless country should not be considered a safe place to land under international maritime law.
In their emailed statement, Maltese officials added that they “have no jurisdiction over any sovereign actions taken in international waters.”
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