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Updated | Muscat refuses to rule out pushbacks, ‘we must safeguard Maltese interests’
Pushback policy “not excluded” if Malta does not receive EU’s help.
5 July 2013, 12:00am
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has kept up a bullish stance on his position to demand concrete EU assistance on migration and asylum, warding off claims that the arrival of 290 migrants on Wednesday and Malta's overall asylum burden was "not alarming".
In responding to a comment by European Commissioner Cecilia Malmström that Malta's migrant arrivals had not reached an alarming rate, Muscat was quick to respond to the press that the Commissioner should offer to have her home country Sweden accept Malta's arrivals.
Muscat has insisted that Wednesday's arrivals had been dealt with in a humane way, although he sent a clear message that he would still consider pushbacks of irregular migrants.
"[Wednesday's] was a very particular situation. There were injured people aboard, children and pregnant women, and the boat was sinking. It is obvious that we could not let people drown," he said.
Muscat today again confirmed that the government did not exclude a pushback policy if it was "necessary to safeguard Maltese interests."
He was visiting the Malta Financial Services Authority where questions were taken up by his stance on migration and asylum.
"I know we will have criticism from NGOs, I know we will probably be criticised by other countries, and I understand this," Muscat said, adding that Malta would not stay quiet and bear the brunt of the problem without demanding EU aid.
"We will not stay quiet. There is a problem and if nobody else is willing to accept it and help us, then we have to handle it in another way," he said.
Muscat insisted that the EU had side-lined Malta on migration and that he was "not impressed" with how things had been tackled so far.
He said the EU's immigration pact hammered out four years ago had had no impact, he said, insisting the situation was now becoming "intolerable".
Muscat said that the EU had found ways, in hard times, to help different countries who were going through economic problems.
"Malta gave millions of euros in aid to other countries, and that was a mark of solidarity among member states," he said. "But now we are facing a crisis. It is not a Maltese crisis, but a Mediterranean crisis. It is a European crisis. We cannot be left to fend for ourselves without any help," he said.
He insisted this was not just idle talk, but that the EU needed to see that Malta has a limited capacity.
"We cannot be expected to do more than we can do."
He also pointed out that the unrest in Syria and the Middle East might have a spill-over effect and could also change migration flows, and that it would be "short-sighted" not to take this into consideration, adding that Libya also needed help to deal with the "wave of immigration" coming through its southern borders.
Green party Alternattiva Demokratika reacted strongly to Muscat's comments today: "Muscat's macho attitude is good for certain banana republics but not for civilised countries. If the Prime Minister had the proverbial attributes he should have shown his great 'courage' in the past by telling Gaddafi in his face that he was a brutal dictator, rather than remaining silent, meek and subservient.
"While it is good to show that Malta should be treated with respect, Prime Minister Muscat should realise that threatening to send back iregular migrants to Libya is a no go area," AD chairperson Arnold Cassola said.
"The pushback policy not only goes against basic human rights but also Libya - not having signed and ratified the Geneva Convention on Refugees - is not a safe country where people can be sent back to. Malta should insist with the EU on the concepts of responsibility sharing, solidarity in practice and the revision of the Dublin Convention."
AD spokesperson for social policy Robert Callus accused Muscat of being alarmist, and of fanning "the flames that may unleash dangerous extremism".
"When mainstream politicians in other countries talked in manners quite similar to the far right, such extremism grew. A case in point is Greece where immigrants, gays, left leaning politicians and critical journalists can no longer walk the streets safely following the rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party.
"Besides, while the motto of being strong with the politicians but not with the immigrants is good in principle, Muscat contradicts himself when he states he does not exclude push back to Libya. Needless to say, it will be the immigrants who drown, get maltreated in a Libyan jail or left to perish in the desert, not politicians."
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