Bartolo rails against EU on migration limbo: ‘Malta is left all alone’

Foreign minister’s volley of Facebook posts: ‘I am very unhappy. Frustrated. I feel like leaving politics’

Foreign minister Evarist Bartolo
Foreign minister Evarist Bartolo

Malta’s foreign minister has posted a volley of Facebooks posts in which he lays the blame for the failure to save asylum seekers at sea at the European Union’s doorstep, saying he will resign if he finds it impossible to reach a common accord.

Evarist Bartolo, who in March accused migrant rescue charities of abetting human traffickers in Libya by saving migrants at sea despite closed ports in Malta and Italy due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said that if the EU does not introduce a responsibility sharing system on asylum, “the human tragedy will continue.”

Malta is refusing to take in asylum seekers and boat migrants rescued at sea, by chartering private vessels to keep migrants outside the Maltese search and rescue area, a move that could be illegal in international law.

“I am very unhappy. Frustrated. I feel like leaving politics and spending my last years reading, writing, listening to music, cooking, walking, travelling and above all enjoying my family,” Bartolo said on Facebook.

“I detest racism and every kind of hatred towards foreigners. I believe in the dignity of every human being. I believe in human rights for everyone. Of all those thousands who dare to cross the Mediterranean I want none to drown. I don’t want people, whoever they are, to be treated badly, like slaves, beaten up.”

But Bartolo said he wants to stand up for Malta, which he said could not bear the “burden of thousands of people sent to Europe via Malta by human traffickers and people smugglers.”

He said Malta wants its EU partners to assume their responsibility and take their share of boat migrants saved at sea.

“Isn’t it possible for us to put together an immigration policy which protects our people as well as the dignity and rights of immigrants? If I find it is impossible for me to promote such a policy and for the EU to accept it, I will resign. It would be the easiest way out. I will solve my own dilemma. I will live a quiet life and will no longer wrestle with my conscience. It will be a far more comfortable life. But I [would] have solved nothing.”

Bartolo said that if the EU doesn’t introduce a new immigration policy that looks after the welfare of the Europeans and the rights and dignity of those who try to migrate there by sharing the responsibility for their relocation, “the human tragedy will continue. People will continue to drown. People smugglers will become richer and richer”.

Bartolo said Malta’s reception centres were full and had no place for more migrants. “We turn to the European Commission and they say: ‘you are right, you shouldn’t be left to bear this burden alone’. We need solidarity from Europe. We speak to the Vatican and they say we are right, as do UN officials. All we are asking is for the other EU countries to take their share of irregular migrants.”

Bartolo also accused the EU of being responsible “for a huge pushback of migrants to Malta.”

“Its failure to set up an effective and fair solidarity mechanism to share the burden of welcoming irregular migrants means that, (in a letter of a UN official to me) ‘Malta has borne a huge part of this burden over the years. Europe needs to adopt a more principled migration policy that will serve European needs, that does not penalise those seeking to cross, and that does not leave countries like yours, which are trying to do the right thing, on their own’.”

In the first three months of 2020, 3,600 irregular migrants left the Libyan coast through the Central Mediterranean route. This is over 400% more than in the same period in 2019. 1,200, a third of all of them, came to Malta.

“Our centres are overflowing and we have no room for more irregular migrants. Since 2005, other EU countries took only 1,700 of our irregular migrants, that is a miserly 8% of all those who were saved and brought to Malta…

“When it comes to preaching to us about our moral and legal obligations we are regaled with an EU symphonic orchestra. When it comes to helping us tangibly to fulfil our moral and legal obligations we are left solo.”