Abela wants automatic migrant relocation in meeting with EU foreign policy chief

In meeting with EU High Representative Josep Borrell, Robert Abela urges for creation of automatic relocation mechanism for rescued migrants

Robert Abela lamented that the EU's system of dealing with migrant rescues was a failure
Robert Abela lamented that the EU's system of dealing with migrant rescues was a failure

Malta will stand its ground and keep on insisting for the creation of an automatic EU relocation mechanism for migrants rescued in the Mediterranean, Robert Abela said in a meeting with the EU's foreign policy chief.

Abela lamented that the EU's system of dealing with migrant rescues was "a failure", and stressed that Malta required solidarity from the Union's member states, which translated into concrete assistance.

The Prime Minister, who met with EU High Representative Josep Borrell at Castille on Tuesday, said the current situation concerning the group of 52 rescued migrants, who are currently stranded on a livestock carrier in Maltese territorial waters, was a case in point.

"There are 52 migrants waiting for shelter... It was clear that the nearest safe port was Italy, but the Italian government refused to let them in. The issue now remains what will happen," he said.

"The main point of departure here is that this is a humanitarian issue. But why should Malta be pressured in allowing these migrants to enter our shores when the nearest port of call [when they were rescued] was Italy?"

Abela underlined that the number of migrants on the island represented 1% of its population. "We have migrants sleeping outside our capital city," he said, "That is why we need solidarity... translated into concrete help."

"I insist in having a relocation mechanism which would apply automatically."

On Operation Irini - which Malta has withdrawn from - Abela said the government's position had not changed. "Our position on Irini remains what it was, for a number of reasons," he said, adding that this matter could be discussed during the course of the meeting.

Abela said that tourism had been picking up beyond expectations since Malta re-opened its borders after lifting COVID-19 restrictions. He said, however, that it was imperative that the migration problem was tackled before any summer break took place.

EU working on permanent migration solution - Borrell

Borrell, who spoke before Abela, acknowledged that Malta had been facing problems when it came to migration.

"Malta is playing an important role in the crossroads of two of the big problems we face today - Libya and Turkey - and I know you have a good relationship [with these two countries]," he said.

"I know you are facing problems with migration. You are a crowded island, and I know 200 migrants constitute a burden, so I hope member states show solidarity and share the burden."

Borrell emphasised that the EU was looking for a "permanent solution" to the migration issue. "We have to solve the problem from its roots. The problem related to instability in the East Mediterranean and to African development. We have to attack these two problems and solve them, or else we will keep experiencing the migration problem, with all the suffering that it represents."

He added that he was amongst those working on a new pact for asylum and migration, which he conceded was "badly needed". "We are advancing with difficulties... but we are advancing."

Borrell also acknowledged that Malta had had some issues with Operation Irini, but underscored that the country's support was crucial.

"For me Malta is an important part of this mission... your support is fundamental."