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‘Why Should Malta Always Shoulder Responsibility?’: Prime Minister Says Italy Was Closest Safe Port For Migrants Stranded Outside Maltese Waters

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Prime Minister Robert Abela insists that Italy was the closest safe port for rescued migrants on board a cargo ship stranded outside of Maltese territorial waters.

Around 52 migrants are currently on the vessels which are running out of supplies amid growing tensions on board.

In a meeting with the High Representative of the European Commission Josep Borrell Fontelles, Abela insisted that Malta cannot continue to be expected to shoulder the burden for the migration crisis.

“In the worst part of the pandemic, it was Libya that helped us. We speak of Libyans as our trusted friends,” Abela said.

Abela stressed that recent ad-hoc distribution agreements failed to address the lack of a permanent mechanism for asylum seekers and irregular migrants in the EU.

“It is not just our problem but a European problem. I insist on the point of having a mechanism of relocation that would kick in automatically. Today, we do not have such a concrete mechanism,” Abela explained.

Borrell conceded that Malta was struggling with the migration issue and vowed to address the problem soon. The High-Representative also addressed the Irini issue.

Malta has vetoed a budget for Operation Irini, the EU’s mission to enforce the Libyan arms embargo, where the UN-recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) has faced a major uprising by the forces of Russian-backed strongman Khalifa Haftar. It has also withdrawn from the mission.

Borrell said that Malta’s involvement in the operation would be welcomed. However, Abela insisted that Malta has no intention to play ball on the issue without a solution to the migration issue.

Malta was recently locked in a diplomatic stalemate over its decision to close its ports to asylum seekers and leave some migrants on board harbour cruise vessels for close to 40 days. It eventually let the migrants into Malta with a relocation agreement, but the operation still cost taxpayers €1.7 million.

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