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EUROPEAN maritime authorities and fossil fuel giant Shell were accused of complicity in sending about 70 refugees to an unsafe country today.
Civilian rescuers on board the Louise Michel, a rescue ship part-funded by British artist Banksy, saved the lives of about 101 people within Malta’s search-and-rescue (SAR) zone in the central Mediterranean on Monday night.
The crew managed to bring 31 refugees aboard, but the remaining 70 or so climbed onto the nearby Miskar offshore gas platform, which Shell operates on behalf of the Tunisian government.
The Louise Michel warned on social media this morning that the refugees on the platform had been waiting there for over 14 hours and that the Maltese authorities, who are legally responsible for co-ordinating their rescue, were refusing to communicate.
The Tunisian navy arrived on scene in the afternoon and took the 70 refugees from the platform to Tunisia, a move the Louise Michel crew and other refugee-rescue organisers condemned as a “pullback” — the unlawful return of refugees to an unsafe place.
A crew member aboard the Louise Michel told the Star today: “We strongly condemn this violation of human rights and maritime law of which European authorities and Shell are complicit in.”
Jacob Berkson, an activist with the distress hotline organisation Alarm Phone, described the Tunisian and Maltese authorities’ actions as an egregious breach of the refugee conventions.
“It is to be hoped that [the refugees] have not been returned to the hell of Libya — but nor can Tunisia be assumed to be a safe third country: it was on Malta to rescue these people,” Mr Berkson told the Star.
“In any sane world, the armed forces of Malta would intervene swiftly and professionally to rescue people in distress irrespective of why they took to sea in the first place.
“Of course, in any sane world, it would be rare that people seeking refuge needed rescuing, because they would be travelling on a well-maintained commercial vessel to a country of their choice.”
Shell’s Tunisian arm said: “[We] can confirm that on January 3 2022 at 8pm (Tunis time), a boat carrying people reached our offshore platform. They were assisted and provided with water, food and dry clothes. Shell had informed the Tunisian authorities and worked closely with them to ensure the safety of people on board the boat. They have since been safely transferred to the Tunisian navy vessel on January 4.”
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