Malta Accused of Violating International Maritime Law with Return of Migrants to Libya

Malta Accused of Coordination in Return of Migrants to Libya

Key Points:

  • Around 500 migrants were returned to Libya from Malta.
  • The return took place on May 23 aboard a fishing vessel.
  • The migrants included 55 children and several pregnant women.
  • Rescue groups have accused Malta of violating international maritime law.
  • The migrants were reportedly sent to a detention center in Benghazi.


On May 23, a fishing vessel carrying around 500 migrants, including 55 children and several pregnant women, reported being adrift and taking on water near the island nation of Malta. The migrants were attempting to reach Europe when they ran into trouble and contacted the hotline for migrants in distress, Alarm Phone. Instead of allowing the vessel to dock, Malta reportedly coordinated its return to Libya, where the migrants were subsequently imprisoned in a detention center in Benghazi.

The Accusation:

The return of the migrants to Libya has been condemned by rescue groups, who accuse Malta of violating international maritime law. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has stated that the return of migrants to Libya puts them in danger of human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, torture, and forced labor.

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Malta’s Response:

Malta has denied coordinating the return of the migrants to Libya but has said that the boat was in Libyan waters at the time of the rescue and therefore the responsibility of the Libyan authorities. However, the IOM has pointed out that if a boat is in distress, international maritime law requires the nearest safe port to be designated for the vessel to dock.


The return of 500 migrants to Libya from Malta has raised questions about the country’s compliance with international maritime law and its treatment of migrants in distress. The accusation made by rescue groups, that Malta coordinated the return of the migrants, has been denied yet Malta’s position on the matter continues to be scrutinized. The situation highlights the ongoing need for a coordinated response to migration in Europe and the importance of upholding the rights of those seeking asylum and protection.

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