Malta shuts its ports to migrants, tells European Commission it 'cannot guarantee resources for mass rescues'

A group of people have been rescued by the Armed Forces of Malta and will be brought ashore but Malta informs EU it will no longer accept migrants in light of virus emergency

File photo
File photo

On Thursday evening, the Maltese government has acceded to allow over 60 illegal immigrants to disembark in Malta but said it would be the last time it would do so during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Armed Forces of Malta had been monitoring the boat in the Maltese SAR zone for some time. The boat was refused in Italy.

"These migrants will have to be disembarked in Malta and will be kept in detention," the government said in a statement on Thursday.

"However, no other illegal immigrant disembarkation will be allowed in Malta, irrespective of the NGO or vessel they are on. Malta cannot guarantee the resources for mass rescues."

The statement said that since the public health superintendent had declared a state of emergency, allowing migrant disembarkation would undo all the precautionary work being carried out in the country.

"Malta is not in a position to offer a safe place for these immigrants, especially at a time of great challenges in the health sector, and law enforcement. The situation today calls for all local resources, including the Armed Forces, to be focused on the fight against the spread of the coronavirus."

It added that for this express reason, travelling to and from Malta was suspended in recent days as a precautionary measure.

"For many years, the Maltese government has carried a weight greater than it could carry in terms of irregular immigration. Despite our limited resources and our small size as the smallest EU member state, Malta provided a haven for thousands of people. But now, Malta has no choice but to take decisions that reflect the extraordinary circumstances at present."

The Maltese government wrote to the EU Commission saying it "cannot guarantee safety to migrants or resources for mass rescues" and added that it would be closing its ports to all illegal migrants. 

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