Washington Post on Malta’s role in the Mediterranean migrants’ rescue operations
With Italy firmly blocking its seaports, the tiny island country of Malta has emerged as an unlikely and reluctant lifeline for migrants making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea.
In an article entitled “When Italy closed its ports to migrants, tiny Malta took them instead. With conditions”, published on The Washington Post, Claire Parker asks “Italy’s restrictive immigration policies appear to be forcing Malta into a moral and political reckoning: Should it follow Italy’s lead and prevent migrants from coming ashore? Or should it take its cues from France and Germany instead and allow migrants stranded at sea to disembark?”
The report adds how on Sunday, Maltese authorities allowed a boat carrying 65 migrants to dock after the vessel had been denied entry into Italy. “It was at least the third such incident this month in which Malta came to the aid of people stranded by Italy’s strict closed-door policy on migration, highlighting what analysts and migrant rights advocates have called an unsustainable European approach to illegal maritime migration.”
Parker says how Malta, which has its own stringent immigration policies, has struck ad hoc deals with larger European nations to receive migrants — a system, critics say, that is predicated on keeping people in limbo in dangerous conditions until agreements can be hashed out.
“In the absence of a larger E.U. resolution to the question of who is responsible for bringing Mediterranean migrants to shore, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has begun to cooperate more closely with moderate European leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron to craft such case-by-case arrangements.”
Yet even as Malta steps in at the last minute to grant migrants entry to Europe, the government has made it harder for humanitarian organizations to keep boats there.
Carlotta Weibl, a spokeswoman for Sea-Eye said her group used to launch rescue boats from Malta until the government evicted their ships last year.
Weibl said she sees this as a spillover effect of Salvini’s hard-line stance. But she said other European states share the blame for what she described as a flawed system for handling illegal maritime migration.
“Malta is a super tiny island, so they say of course we cannot take all the people on our own; other European member states have to take people as well,” she said. “These ad hoc solutions we have now, they waste a lot of time and resources and they place people in danger.”
Waiting at sea, with uncertainty lingering and supplies dwindling, takes a psychological toll on migrants, she said.
In the wake of the Alan Kurdi standoff Sunday, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer wrote a letter to Salvini imploring him to rethink his policy and open Italy’s ports.
Salvini delivered a blunt response to that letter via Facebook live-stream: “No, no, no, absolutely not.”
Meanwhile, the Italian and Maltese foreign ministers issued a joint statement saying “it is no longer permissible to proceed on a case-by-case basis, seeking solutions in emergencies, with growing political difficulties and very serious hardships.”
They called for a “structured permanent mechanism” in the E.U. approach to migration and requested the E.U. Foreign Affairs Council discuss the matter at its next meeting in July.
Feature Photo EPA-EFE/FABIAN HEINZ / SEA-EYE