Migrants offshore detention cost €1.7m, European countries to take 284 people

Malta has reached an agreement with a number of European countries to relocate 284 migrants previously held onboard tourist vessels outside territorial waters

More than 400 migrants were kept on tourist vessels after the island had declared its ports unsafe because of COVID-19
More than 400 migrants were kept on tourist vessels after the island had declared its ports unsafe because of COVID-19

Malta has reached an agreement with a number of European countries to relocate 284 migrants, the government said on Monday.

The relocation is being coordinated by the European Commission and involves migrants who had been kept on board Captain Morgan vessels out at sea for several weeks.

The government also said that the offshore detention operation came at a cost of €1.7 million. It gave a breakdown of the costs, which included ship rentals, food and supplies, and security arrangements.

Government said relocation negotiations began when Maltese ports were closed during the public health emergency period.

"The decision to keep migrants on these ships was taken at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when we felt our country could not offer a safe place for those who arrive in Malta illegally by sea," the government said.

It said this was done in light of the pressure on migrant centres, including the open centre in Hal Far that had been put under quarantine after a number of residents tested positive for the virus.

“Malta was not the only country in the Mediterranean to use ships for this purpose, as other member states took initiatives to curb the pandemic in migrant centres,” it said.

In May, more than 400 rescued migrants were held on tourist vessels outside territorial waters after the island had declared its ports closed.

"The government has begun the process of relocating the first group of 204 immigrants to other countries. In the case of the other 80 migrants, there is a political commitment between other member states which will be monitored closely by the European Commission," the government said.

Work was also underway to accelerate the asylum process for migrants from countries deemed safe in order to send them back to their country of origin as quickly as possible.

Offshore detention cost €1.7 million

In relation to the migrants that had been transferred onto tourist vessels, the government said the operation cost €1.7 million, and talks were still underway to obtain European funding for the operation.  

“The government ensured that medical testing of all immigrants who were on board these vessels was conducted, and none of the immigrants tested positive for COVID-19. Any decision taken at that time reflected the urgency of the situation.”

It said that the lease of the vessels cost €363,440, which amounted to €3,000 per day for Captain Morgan vessels and €6,500 for a Supreme Travel vessel.

Two other companies were contacted but were not interested in providing the service.  Supplies and related services cost €212,646. To this end, 33 different companies and businesses providing food and beverages, sanitary products and clothing, among others, were hired. Boat rentals to deliver supplies cost €87,741 and there was an expenditure of €10,908 on disembarkation procedures.

“Due to the nature of the operation, the presence of security 24 hours a day was essential. There was an average of 12 security officers at any time of the day for seven days a week. More than 33,000 hours of security resulted in a cost of one million euros.

The security company was chosen because at the time of the operation it was offering services at the Marsa Initial Reception Center, so they were able to provide a service in the shortest possible time.”

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