Photo in circle: Migrants aboard the Diciotti navy vessel (Photo: EP)
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said Malta is acting as a role model to other European nations on how to deal with the ongoing situation of migrants crossing over from Africa.
“You don’t reach solutions by tweeting or flexing your muscles but through the powers of persuasion,” Muscat said in an interview on ONE Radio. “This tactic has seen Malta take in migrants from two NGO search-and-rescue vessels and convince other countries to share the burden for the first time in the EU’s history.”
Muscat took a dig at Italian Home Affairs Minister Matteo Salivini, arguing that his hardline strategy on migration has painted his country into a corner in the ongoing stand-off involving 137 migrants who have been intercepted by the Italian navy vessel Diciotti. Italy has denied the vessel permission to disembark the migrants at Catania until other EU member states agree to distribute them, but minors and sick migrants have since been allowed to disembark.
“Those who think Malta needs to adopt Italy’s strategy need only look at how Italy has now painted itself into a corner,” Muscat said. “It saddens me to speak this way about a neighbour who I consider an ally, but we’re now in a situation whereby Italy is threatening to cut off EU funding. This will lead to nothing but economic instability.
The Prime Minister urged people to view the situation as a humanitarian one, involving people drowning as they make their way from Africa to Europe.
“From a moral standpoint, I cannot just let people drown and I laugh when I hear people suggesting otherwise,” he said. “It makes me wonder what sort of values they endorse, as their stances go against both Christian and social democratic values.”
However, he insisted the EU’s strategy must be one of “common sense”, whereby only migrants fleeing war-torn countries are granted asylum and whereby search and rescue NGOs allow the Libyan coastguard to force fleeing migrants back to Libya.
“I have nothing against NGOs, but they cannot be allowed to disobey international laws and act as though they are in a race against time against the Libyan coastguard,” he said. “The Libyan coastguard may not be the best in the world, but the EU has invested millions to train it and it must now be allowed to do its job.”
This strategy has been harshly criticised by human rights NGOs, who have repeatedly flagged the atrocious conditions that migrants are subjected to in Libyan camps – including rape, torture and slavery.
In his speech, Muscat also proposed that the EU entice Egypt and Tunisia with access to its markets in return for setting up reception centres for migrants seeking asylum in Europe.
“Australia has paid Papua New Guinea millions to set up a migrant reception centre and ideally the EU will do something similar in the future, although it must bear in mind that public sentiment [on migration[ is strong in non-European countries too,” he said. “We must convince countries like Egypt and Tunisia to help us out, not necessarily by paying the millions but by granting them access to EU markets. This is not about being soft or hard on migration, but about common sense.”