The case of ‘El Hiblu 3’: "Resisting illegal deportation to Libya is not a crime”

The case of ‘El Hiblu 3’: “Resisting illegal deportation to Libya is not a crime”

  • Published on
    September 23, 2022
  • Category:
    Law & Policy
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Pressure is mounting on Attorney General Victoria Buttigieg to dismiss the trial against three young migrants who stand accused of terrorism in Malta. 

Charities claim that the charges should be dropped as the youths were merely resisting their forced return to Libya, a country where migrants and refugees face systematic exploitation, including forced labor, torture and extortion.  

Who are ‘El Hiblu 3’? 

In March 2019, a freighter rescued 108 people in distress from an inflatable boat in the Mediterranean Sea. The oil tanker, the ‘El Hiblu 1’ attempted to return them to Libya, allegedly under orders from European authorities.  

When the passengers recognized the Libyan shore, protests erupted. People were scared to return to the country they had fled. 

The three accused, now known as ‘El Hiblu 3’, stepped in to mediate and translate. Aged 15, 16 and 19 at the time, they attempted to diffuse the tension between the ship’s crew and the others on board.   

The boat eventually took the group to Malta. On arrival, El Hiblu 3 were arrested, accused of hijacking the ship and threatening its crew, which qualifies as terrorism and can lead to prison sentences of up to 30 years. 

Maltese authorities detained the three young migrants for seven months. Although they are now free on bail, they must regularly report to the police and attend hearings. 

Resisting return to Libya 

El Hiblu 3, together with the other migrants and refugees who were rescued alongside them, resisted being forcibly returned to Libya, a country where they would have been at a high risk of modern slavery.  

Karl Kopp, head of Pro Asyl’s Europe department, is quoted in InfoMigrants: 

It is grotesque that people seeking protection face draconian prison sentences in European courts for demanding the right to asylum and not allowing themselves to be sent back to Libya’s torture camps without resistance. Resisting illegal deportation to Libya is not a crime.

The conditions in Libyan detention centers are dire. Migrants and refugees held in these facilities report suffering abuse that may amount to crimes against humanity.  

What you can do 

The court has finished hearing testimonies in the pre-trial phase of the El Hiblu 3 case, meaning the Attorney General will soon decide which charges to bring against them. The Free the El Hiblu 3 Campaign is calling on the public to sign an open letter to the Attorney General asking for all charges to be dropped. You can sign that letter here.  

The Freedom United community is also calling on the E.U. to stop facilitating the trafficking and abuse of migrants and refugees in Libya. Join us today and tell the E.U. we will not tolerate its complicity in modern slavery.  


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