[WATCH] Malta will not become crisis centre for migrants, foreign minister tells EU

Three weeks since Malta started hosting migrants on ships outside territorial waters, Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo calls on EU members to show solidarity, insisting the country will not become a crisis centre for migration

Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo
Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo

Malta will not become a European crisis centre for hosting migrants, Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo has warned as he called for solidarity among member states.

He said Malta is prepared to play its part but it cannot be expected to shoulder the weight of the migration crisis on its own.

Bartolo made the statement in a Facebook message broadcast on Thursday afternoon, 24 hours before Malta's ultimatum to veto the appointment of the force commander of the EU's naval mission, Irini, expires.

He called on the EU to help share the burden of the migration crisis.

“The bigger the problem, the less solidarity we get. Words of sympathy are not enough, we need practical help, we need to relocate a number of migrants to other countries,” he said.

So far, only France and Portugal have pledged to take in 36 migrants between them. There are 160 migrants currently being kept aboard two Captain Morgan tourist ships just outside Maltese territorial waters after Malta closed its ports as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The foreign minister said migrant arrivals increased by 438% this year, with over 1,500 migrants reaching Malta.

“Malta cannot be expected to carry the weight of this disproportionate burden of migration, when ultimately it Is protecting a European external border,” Bartolo said.

The minister hit out at the EU, stating only 8% of irregular migrants have been relocated to other member states since 2005 despite pledges being made.

“1% of the Maltese population are irregular migrants waiting in centres ready to be processed,” he said.

He also stated that migrant centres on the island are housing double their capacity.

Bartolo called on other EU states to show solidarity, stating the union had been built on such a principle.

“Solidarity is something we believe in, we are asking for support, because we know the value of solidarity gave birth to the EU. We also know, whenever this value is lacking, we weaken the very soul of the EU,” he said.

“Like the people they pack on the boats, we are being left at the mercy of human traffickers and people smugglers,” he insisted.

On Thursday, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), called on Malta and other European States to speed up efforts to bring the rescued migrants aboard the Captain Morgan vessels on to dry land and to safety.

“It is important to disembark the remaining people as soon as possible, as they have been on board the vessel for some two weeks – the standard quarantine period for COVID-19 – without any clarity on disembarkation. It is unacceptable to leave people at sea longer than necessary, especially under difficult and unsuitable conditions,” the organisations said.

READ ALSO: UNHCR, IOM call for European resolution to Captain Morgan migrant detention

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