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MaltaToday 16 February 2022 MIDWEEK

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2 NEWS maltatoday | WEDNESDAY • 16 FEBRUARY 2022 2 NEWS KURT SANSONE MALTA'S failure to assist migrants res- cued by NGO ships and its restrictive disembarkation policies, pose "signifi- cant" risks to human rights, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner said. In her country assessment, following a visit to Malta last October, Dunja Mi- jatovic said the lives of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in the Mediterra- nean was being put at risk. She commented on Malta's decreased efforts to engage in search and rescue missions over the past few years, which also contributed to the risks migrants faced. "The Commissioner calls on the Mal- tese authorities to ensure adequate rescue capacities in Malta's search and rescue region, enhance the effective coordination of rescue operations, and effectively investigate any allegations of omissions to provide immediate assis- tance to persons in distress at sea," the report said. It warned that any repetition of the human rights and humanitarian crisis created due to the temporary closure of Malta's ports in 2020 should be avoided. The closure of ports at the time was at- tributed to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic when a similar stand was tak- en by Italy. Mijatovic advised that the authorities should take measures to avoid arbitrary detention of asylum seekers and mi- grants, invest in alternatives to immi- gration detention, improve safeguards against the detention of vulnerable per- sons, and ensure that any detention of children is immediately ended. "Any detained migrants must be treat- ed with dignity," the report said. In its reaction to the findings, gov- ernment refuted the Commissioner's remarks that Malta's policy was restric- tive and jeopardised the rights of asylum seekers. "[Government] considers the remarks that its asylum and immigration policies and practices are 'restrictive' and that it 'continues to jeopardise the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants' as unfounded and not reflective of the facts," the government said. It insisted that Malta remains com- mitted to meeting its international ob- ligations and to safeguard the minimum standards in the humane and safe recep- tion of migrants. "Malta strongly rebuts any allegations on arbitrary delays in responding to distress calls," the government insisted. "All notifications received are investi- gated, assessed, prioritised and actions are taken accordingly." Government said that Malta has often ended up assuming more responsibili- ties on a humanitarian basis than those strictly imposed by the applicable inter- national conventions. It reiterated that according to inter- national law applicable to Malta, dis- embarkation of persons rescued at sea should take place at the nearest place of safety. The government said it was the flag state's responsibility to coordinate dis- embarkation in the case of NGO vessels carrying out autonomous migrant inter- ceptions in international waters. "Malta does not agree with the argument that disembarkations by NGO vessels should always be conducted only in Italy and Malta. No other coastal state has ever made available its ports for disembar- kation even though the obligation falls squarely on all Member States." It also noted that the closure of ports in 2020 was a temporary measure in view of a serious public health emergen- cy, and it was meant to protect all per- sons living in Malta. Malta's migration policy posing 'significant' risk to human life, Council of Europe report says The Council of Europe's human rights commissioner hits out at Malta's 'failure' to assist migrants rescued by NGO ships • Government refutes conclusions 122 new COVID-19 cases were registered on Tuesday, fig- ures published by the Health Ministry show. One death occurred in the last 24-hours, a 70-year-old woman, bringing the total number of death to 593. Active cases stand at 1,565 after 184 recoveries were registered. There are currently 52 coronavirus patients being cared for at Mater Dei Hospital, of which three are in the ITU. Until yesterday, 1,232,438 vaccine doses were adminis- tered, of which 338,537 were booster doses. COVID-19 One death and 122 new cases registered KARL AZZOPARDI TRANSPORT minister Ian Borg has played down comments by deputy prime minister Chris Fearne that Marsaskala's "undeveloped coast" should stay as is, as being a statement of opposition against the marina. Borg is facing widespread opposition from Marsaskala residents, activists, NGOs and the local council, to turn the bay into a yacht ma- rina. But the minister refused to accept that Fearne, a candidate on Marsaskala's third district, was expressing disagreement on the marina. "I invite readers to listen to Fearne's state- ment properly... my position and the prime minister's are identical to his. I agree with what Fearne said. It is what I have said in the past weeks," Borg said. Fearne said Marsaskala's undeveloped coast "which residents enjoy as is, for swimming, recreation or fishing" should remain as it is, while the inner bay's mooring should be "reor- ganised in a better way". "If Fearne is in favour of the marina or not, you should ask him... but Fearne is on re- cord saying what he said," Borg said, denying Fearne's comments represented opposition to the marina. Borg also said the government will commu- nicate with the local council, after the latter doubled down on its opposition to the marina. Borg attacked the PN's own statements on the opposition to the marina, saying the party went full steam ahead on the Birgu yacht mari- na after it abetted the late Dom Mintoff in his campaign against the Sant's administration's plan for a marina in 1998. "They surely cannot be taken seriously on this subject," Borg said. 'I agree with him': Borg downplays Fearne comments on Marsaskala marina Dunja Mijatovic

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