Main photo: Sea-Watch 3 (Chris Grodotzki)
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said he will not cave in to bullying tactics over the 49 asylum seekers which are currently stranded in Maltese waters, in a clear dig at the Italian government.
“There are those who have closed their ports and are flexing their muscles, while little Malta didn’t kick up a fuss when it rescued 250 people recently,” Muscat said on ONE Radio this morning. “We will not politically cave in to people who act the bully and who are doing as they please. If that happens, then their supporters will cheer them on while tiny Malta, which follows the law and saves people’s lives, ends up a victim and appears weak.”
49 people are currently stranded in Maltese waters on two NGO-run vessels, the Sea-Watch 3 and the Sea-Eye. No EU country has accepted these migrants but Malta allowed them to enter its waters earlier this week due to bad weather.
Italy’s deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said Italy is ready to take in the women and children stranded on the boats and accused Malta of refusing to dock the ships despite them being in Maltese territorial waters. The Maltese government responded that the migrants had been rescued in an area that was outside Malta’s search and rescue region and that the ships only sought refuse in Maltese territorial waters after Italy denied them passage.
Italy’s deputy Prime Minister Luigi di Maio
Muscat said that while Malta can cope with letting these 49 people in, it doesn’t want to set a precedent and become a centre for asylum seekers rescued by NGO-run vessels.
“We need to strike a balance between human kindness and national security and we will ask the EU if accepting these people will set a precedent,” he said. “It’s a point of principle for us. It would have been very easy to play the Christmas saint, but then January, February and the summer months would have come along and we would have had to be coherent. We are currently in talks with the EU and other countries and are asking them what will happen if this situation repeats itself.”
“That is why we are stressing that we do not want this case to set a precedent. In fact, we are discussing with other countries and the European Union to tell us whose responsibility this case was and in case a similar case happens, who takes responsibility.”
Muscat also suggested the NGO-vessels could have disobeyed the orders of the countries which were responsible for rescuing the migrants.
“I won’t enter the controversies about the dynamics of this rescue but I think it’s a known fact,” he said.