The government’s continued abdication of search and rescue responsibilities is contributing to deaths in the Mediterranean

More than 1,300 people died or disappeared in the Central Mediterranean in 2022. These people – men, women, children, sons, and daughters – can be added to the deplorable death toll of more than 25,000 people who have died while crossing the Mediterranean since 2014.[1]

The Maltese government’s continued failure to uphold its search and rescue (SAR) responsibilities contributes to this death toll by putting lives at risk. In 2022, Maltese authorities ignored more than 20,000 people in distress; 413 boats in distress in Malta’s SAR zone were not assisted, and only three boats were rescued by the Maltese Armed Forces.[2]

People in distress in our SAR zone must be rescued without delay. Despite Minister Camilleri’s claim of “defending our realm”, government decisions to delay and avoid rescue lead directly to the loss of life at sea. Four-year-old Loujin died of thirst in September 2022 after days of being in distress in Malta’s SAR zone. Her death makes clear the consequences of our government’s actions. The murderous policy adopted by the Maltese authorities must be reversed.

In 2022, a further 24,600 people were pushed back to Libya after being intercepted at sea. Returning people to Libya has been widely condemned for violating international law and the principle of non-refoulement: Libya is not a safe place. Migrants regularly face torture, rape, and death in the country. Yet, on multiple occasions, Maltese authorities have allowed the Libyan coast guard or instructed private vessels to return people to Libya from Malta’s search and rescue zone. Malta’s actions result in the abuse, exploitation, and death of thousands of people, including children.

In Malta, the government’s divisive rhetoric and practices reinforce the violence seen at sea: raids on asylum seekers’ homes, alongside statements made by politicians, encourage racism and further violence.

Malta and the Mediterranean should not be a place of death but rather a place of refuge and safety. The government must reassess its approach towards migration and engage with those who are dedicated to supporting migrants, asylum seekers, and refugees. Until then, Malta will continue to be responsible for causing harm to those seeking a better life.

Saving migrant lives at sea is both a legal and moral obligation. By failing to fulfil these obligations, the government puts lives at risk and compromises the value of compassion that we hold dear. At this year’s Global Day of CommemorAction, we lay out shoes symbolically to help us confront the question: Who were the people whose lives were lost at sea because of our government’s actions?

[1] See IOM Missing Migrants project for these and other figures:

[2] Figures recorded by the Civil Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (CMRCC) and SARchive to the best of its knowledge, from a mixture of actor accounts and media analysis.