Hosting migrants on a flotilla of privately-owned harbour cruise boats is certainly better than letting them drown, but it is not a solution to Malta’s migration woes.
It actually seems to be an expensive knee-jerk reaction by Prime Minister Robert Abela.
Malta shut its borders at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a decision the majority of Maltese people agreed with.
However, the island is now spending at least €12,000 a day to house 425 migrants aboard four vessels belonging to Captain Morgan and Supreme Cruises.
And with good weather leading to more arrivals, this ‘solution’ is starting to look more unsustainable by the day.
The Maltese government has been reluctant to divulge exactly how much it is paying private operators. But the boats alone could cost up to €360,000 per month, excluding food, medical care, security staff and the rest.
That’s great for the private companies getting these direct orders at a time when their vessels are inactive due to the lack of tourism. But what about us, the taxpayers?
With a global economic recession on its way, surely the government could be making better use of our resources.
Perhaps if this stunt were to lead to some international PR about Malta’s plight, it would be reasonable.
But the government refuses to engage properly with local media, so the only footage that emerged from these vessels is an embarrassing video showing the migrants chanting ‘Viva l-Labour’.
Do we think that’s going to convince the EU to do more for Malta?
Abela has done well to make Libya his first foreign visit during his tenure. Communication is a good starting point. Perhaps he will return with a better understanding of the civil war in that country on which he can base his policy.
Foreign Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo is right in saying Malta cannot be expected to shoulder the migration arrivals alone. But Bartolo might make better of use of his time by actually forming a powerful coalition of Mediterranean nations to present a united front on the issue. A Minister should look for solutions and not focus his energy on complaining on Facebook.
Malta has to at least take a seat at the negotiation table, and well-informed sources have said the government’s attempts to communicate honestly with the EU on the issue have been weak so far.
So what’s the solution?
Admittedly there is no easy one. However, the EU is actually presenting an achievable plan to ease growing tensions.
The European People’s Party, the largest political grouping in the EU, has proposed plans that will see asylum seekers immediately distributed among member states and processed upon their arrival to the respective country. It also addresses other vital areas like irregular economic migration and disrupting the human trafficking network.
The plans, which have the support of the EU Commission, even have the backing of vociferous anti-migrant nations like Poland and Hungary. It’s one of the most concrete actions in the migration field in recent history, and it cannot be ignored.
Maybe Malta should be taking such proposals more seriously rather than coming across as petulant or carrying out populist, expensive stunts which it fails to explain.
And if the government is going to insist on leaving migrants on vessels, it might as well do things properly. It should contract a ship with actual sleeping and medical facilities, and give appropriate access to state agencies and NGOs.
Migration has been with Malta for decades now – including the last decade in which we enjoyed a huge economic boom. It’s about time our politicians stop dealing with it as if it’s a big new threat that requires such a strange response.
Do you think Malta should continue using harbour boats to host asylum seekers? Comment below