A Malta Coast Guards ship patrols as protesters display a banner urging action on migrant rescue. Photograph: Matthew Mirabelli/AFP/Getty Images
The Italian government has confirmed that Malta’s armed forces turned a migrant boat away at gunpoint from Maltese waters, after giving them fuel and the GPS coordinates to reach Italy.
Police in Sicily are investigating and the prosecutor’s office may open an investigation against Malta in the next few days. Maltese officers risk being charged with aiding illegal immigration.
It comes two weeks after the Guardian published a joint exclusive with the Italian daily newspaper Avvenire containing asylum seekers’ accounts and video footage of an Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) vessel refusing to rescue 101 people in a rubber dinghy, instead pointing them to Italy. Many migrants leapt into the water to try to reach the military boat, mistakenly thinking they were being rescued.
“They came to us and said, ‘Malta has a virus called corona, if you’ve heard about it. We can’t take you there because everyone is sick in Malta. And Malta is small and can’t take all of you,’” one of the passengers who eventually made it to Sicily on 12 April told the Guardian. “They gave us red life vests, a new engine and fuel and told us they would show us the route to Italy. Then they pointed guns at us and said: ‘We give you 30 minutes.’”