European Commission asks Malta for details of migrants held on ships

After ruffling feathers in Brussels with its hardball stance on migration, Malta has received a request from the European Commission for details of rescued people being kept offshore

Rescued migrants are being kept outside territorial waters on tourist boats chartered by the Maltese government
Rescued migrants are being kept outside territorial waters on tourist boats chartered by the Maltese government

Malta has received a request from Brussels for details of the 162 rescued migrants kept on two ships just outside territorial waters, MaltaToday has learnt.

The request was communicated by the European Commission on Sunday after Malta ruffled feathers last week when it withdrew from the EU’s Operation Irini in the Mediterranean.

Malta has been calling on the European Commission to coordinate a solution among member states for the relocation of migrants as the country saw a surge in arrivals from Libya this year.

Malta and Italy closed their ports for disembarkation as a result of the COVID-19 emergency.

The government has since chartered two Captain Morgan tourist vessels to house 162 migrants rescued in Malta’s search and rescue area. The ships are anchored just outside territorial waters on Hurd’s Bank.

READ ALSO: Malta rescues 123 migrants, to be transferred to second Captain Morgan vessel

It is understood that the European Commission has asked for the names, sex, date of birth and country of origin of the offshore migrants. The request for details also includes what languages the migrants speak and if they have any relatives in Europe.

The request for information has been interpreted within government circles as a glimmer of hope that Malta’s plea is starting to be heard.

“It is a very small step forward but Malta is insisting on an effective relocation mechanism 

that would alleviate the burden on frontline countries,” a government source said.

The government remains steadfast in its decision not to allow migrant disembarkations at a time when reception facilities are full and the country is dealing with COVID-19.

Over the weekend Prime Minister Robert Abela was scheduled to receive calls from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emanuel Macron but they did not take place.

However, EU Foreign Affairs chief Josep Borrell communicated his disappointment with Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo at Malta’s hardball stand.

Malta faced umbrage after it withdrew from Operation Irini and vetoed EU funds for the important naval operation close to French interests in Libya.

READ ALSO: Malta rattles EU with Irini withdrawal, Macron and Merkel schedule calls

Operation Irini, the EU naval mission tasked to enforce an arms embargo in Libya, was launched just months ago.

But Malta last week withdrew its participation, with Armed Forces personnel having been the sole ship boarding team on the operation.

The move, a sop to Turkey, which is shipping weapons to the UN-recognised Government of National Accord, is intended at encouraging the GNA to come down hard on human traffickers and stem flows of irregular migration to Malta. 

But the French support the strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is getting his weapons over the Egyptian border, and air support from the United Arab Emirates – something Irini cannot stop.

READ ALSO: Malta not in a position to ensure safe place for rescued migrants, Abela tells Council of Europe

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