MaltaToday: The Maltese government described a statement by Italian Infrastructure Minister Danilo Toninelli, who hails from the Movimento Cinque Stelle as ‘a baseless and frivolous attempt to try to impinge on the sovereignty of a neighbouring country.

“If the Maltese are not able to do so, they should change the SAR region and we will take it ourselves, including the public funds that come with it,” Toninelli said. He was responding to a point raised by an Italian journalist that Malta was too small to take in large groups of migrants such as those rescued by the Aquarius.

In a reaction, the Maltese government said that Toninelli’s statement had “no legal or political basis and unfortunately even shows that the minister is either misinformed or wants to stir a useless controversy”.

“It must be made clear that Malta fulfils its obligations and abides by all applicable conventions including its obligations within our Search and Rescue Region,” the government said. “In the last years Malta has invested millions in upgrading its equipment and has all the necessary means to coordinate all SAR events inside its area.”

“In addition, the Maltese Government does not receive any funds for the control of its SAR area. SAR is a service rendered by the state without any payments. Any funds received were funds related to external border control under EU funds which has nothing to do with SAR. It must also be noted that Italy receives millions from this same fund.

“The Minister’s statements may be interpreted as though this issue has nothing to do with migration but is rather a territorial issue. It is a baseless and frivolous attempt to try to impinge on the sovereignty of a neighbouring country.”

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