A double bind: Malta and the rescue of unwanted migrants at sea. A legal anthropological perspective on the humanitarian law of the sea

Klepp, Silja (2011) A double bind: Malta and the rescue of unwanted migrants at sea. A legal anthropological perspective on the humanitarian law of the sea International Journal of Refugee Law, 23 (3). pp. 538-557. DOI 10.1093/ijrl/eer017.

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Abstract

This paper discusses research results from anthropological fieldwork carried out in Malta in 2007. The island, which is situated in the central Mediterranean Sea between Tunisia, Libya and Italy, is a focal point regarding the continuing refugee situation. One of the research aims was to investigate the situation at sea concerning Search and Rescue (SAR) operations for migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean by boat. In the year 2006, 556 missing and drowned migrants were registered in the central Mediterranean between Libya, Malta and Italy, this number increased to 642 in 2008.1 The goal of the research in Malta was therefore to understand why an increasing number of migrants were dying at sea and what role the European security forces play in this context.
After introducing the research perspective of this article, background information concerning migration movements in the Mediterranean Sea between Libya, Italy and Malta in recent years is provided. Due to European regulations, which are considered unfavourable for the island, and its population density, Malta feels under pressure from migrants arriving by boat across the Mediterranean. Different concepts regarding a ‘place of safety’ to disembark rescued boat migrants are debated. The ambiguities in the responsibilities cause problems for the captains who rescue migrants in distress at sea. These ambiguities may in turn lead to a weakening of the SAR regime. Following discussion of the legal and political quarrels on the place of safety, the SAR operations at sea of the Armed Forces of Malta is analysed. The findings show that it is not merely a case of enforcing legal norms created by international law. The process is much more complex: legal gaps are filled by regional actors, through informal or even illegal practices, asserting their own claims at their convenience. Thus, transnationalization processes of law, such as the international SAR regime, are a fragmented and ambiguous set of regulations, creating space for negotiation and manoeuvre.

Document Type: Article
Research affiliation: OceanRep > The Future Ocean - Cluster of Excellence
Kiel University
DOI etc.: 10.1093/ijrl/eer017
ISSN: 0953-8186
Date Deposited: 12 Sep 2019 12:46
Last Modified: 12 Sep 2019 12:46
URI: http://eprints.uni-kiel.de/id/eprint/47725

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