[WATCH] Malta wants €100m EU aid intervention in Libya to stem migrant departures

Maltese government pushing for the EU to launch a humanitarian mission to Libya to prevent impending 'disaster'

Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo appealed to the EU to launch an aid mission to Libya in a webstreamed address on Monday
Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo appealed to the EU to launch an aid mission to Libya in a webstreamed address on Monday

The Maltese government is appealing to the EU to immediately launch a humanitarian mission to Libya to avoid a disaster brought on by the Libyan migration crisis in combination with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo, in a video address on Facebook on Monday evening, said the government was urging the EU to provide at least €100 million in food, aid, medicine and medical equipment to Libya.

Bartolo stressed that this had to happen sooner rather than later, highlighting that an impending disaster, caused by the reality of migrants fleeing Libya combined with the closure of ports in Malta and Italy, was on the horizon.

The Libyan conflict had been ongoing for years, and the coronavirus has led to a significant deterioration in the situation, the minister said. 

"Detention camps are full, and, according to credible reports, thousands of migrants are fleeing or have been given permission to leave the camps. This provides all the ingredients for a major humanitarian disaster," he said, adding that things were now more complicated by the fact that Italy and Malta had closed their ports since their resources needed to be used to treat and contain the spread COVID-19.

"Within the context of a need for migrant rescue which will only grow bigger, and considering our resources being focused elsewhere, we are facing a disaster," he said.

"The only way of preventing such a humanitarian disaster is for there to be an EU humanitarian mission in Libya giving medical provisions to Libyans and migrants."

This, Bartolo underlined, would provide migrants an incentive to remain in Libya instead of resorting to "the desperate measure of risking their lives in the Mediterranean Sea."

The mission had to be put in place "imminently" and had to be "substatial", he emphasised.

He underscored that the EU was facing an existential crisis, and that now was the time not for words, but for action to save lives.

Malta is ready to play its part, but it had to be made clear that a challenge on a European dimension requires an EU-level reaction, he said. "If Malta is left alone, women, children and victims of abuse [in Libya] will die."

Lamenting the years of inaction by other European countries, Bartolo reiterated that the EU had to take action now, "before a humanitarian crisis happens tomorrow."

Bartolo's message to Europe comes as more migrants departing Libya's shores, the situation risks developing into a humanitarian crisis as Malta and Italy have declared their ports shut to migrant arrivals in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are currently two boats with tens of migrants on board stranded in Malta's search and rescue zone. One is being assisted by a Spanish NGO rescue ship that is still waiting for instructions from the Maltese authorities.

Meanwhile, this afternoon, the EU border agency Frontex said a boat that NGOs feared may have capsized on Easter Sunday, actually made it to Porto Palo in Sicily on Monday morning.