Malta proposes own solution for distribution of rescued migrants at sea

Malta has pushed forward its proposal for a distribution of migrants to be “conducted in a manner which provides clarity and removes uncertainty on an operational level”

Michael Farrugia (second from right) with permanent representative Daniel Azzopardi (centre)
Michael Farrugia (second from right) with permanent representative Daniel Azzopardi (centre)

Malta has expressed its disagreement with a proposal to allow the host maritime rescue coordination centre in search and rescue operations to decide which is the safest port of call for rescued migrants at sea. 

Home affairs and national security minister Michael Farrugia pushed forward Malta’s proposal for a distribution of migrants to be “conducted in a manner which provides clarity and removes uncertainty on an operational level.” 

Farrugia insisted on solidarity between EU member states and that it should not be separated from the operational plan. 

“Malta believes that it is important to support Libya in managing its own Search and Rescue Region (SRR) and that the efforts of all Member States should be to overcome situations inside the Libyan SRR. At the end of the discussion there was no clear agreement on the way forward and it was referred back to the technical group,” Farrugia told EU defence ministers in Brussels. 

Farrugia also participated in discussions on the EU’s security and defence agenda, the state of play of EU-NATO relations, and a review of missions and operations being run under the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The session on the EU’s security and defence agenda included a joint debate with Ministers of Foreign Affairs, while that on EU-NATO relations was held in the presence of the Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg.  

Minister Farrugia gave an overview of Malta’s position on the European Peace Facility and on EU-NATO cooperation. “Malta hopes that cooperation in the maritime domain will be pursued, especially between NATO’s operation Sea Guardian and the EUNAVFOR Operation Sophia... This will help coordination and intelligence gathering and related action to illegal activities in the central Mediterranean.” 

The European External Action Service, which is run by the EU’s foreign minister Federica Mogherini, presented a proposal to the European Council’s Political and Security Committee to change EUNAVFOR MED’s disembarkation practices. 

EUNAVFOR MED’s current mandate Sophia expires in December. 

The proposed change would allow the relevant Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) to decide where rescued migrants are to be disembarked and would require new criteria to be considered, including the circumstances of the rescue, the need for EUNAVFOR MED vessels to resume their mission, and principles of efficiency and speed. 

As a last resort, the proposal would require the country of the MRCC to make available one of its ports for disembarkation, provided that an immediate screening of migrants is organized and an expeditious redistribution of disembarked asylum seekers to other states occurs. 

The solution would apparently resolve the problematic aspect of having a “host country” to the EU mission receiving all the migrants rescued at sea, in this case Italy. 

But a host of EU countries want a more far-reaching solution, some still insisting on regional disembarkation platforms located outside the EU’s borders so that asylum seekers could be properly screened before granted access. 

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