As Malta rescues 118 at sea, minister placates ‘anger’ over irregular immigration with video message

Bryon Camilleri says Malta is ensuring promises from EU countries and the Commission are kept to relocate migrants and return rejected asylum seekers

The group included 10 women, a baby and five children (Source: MHSE)
The group included 10 women, a baby and five children (Source: MHSE)

Malta’s home affairs minister Byron Camilleri issued a recorded message after the Armed Forces of Malta rescued 118 men, women and children who were drowning in Malta’s search and rescue zone after leaving war-torn Libya.

The group includes 10 women, a baby and five children.

With mounting arrivals placing pressure on hosting facilities in Malta, Camilleri said in his message that the AFM had “no choice” but to rescue the men and women in Malta’s SAR zone. Malta is also duty-bound by international law to rescue people in distress inside its SAR zone.

“These immigrants will be kept isolated in quarantine on land. A call for offers for ships to be used as quarantine facilities offshore is now in its last phase,” Camilleri said.

The minister also paid tribute to Libyan authorities who in 2020 alone had intercepted 7,000 migrants attempting to leave the country. The EU-financed Libyan coastguard is tasked with preventing migrants who have travelled from sub-Saharan nations into the war-torn country, from leaving for the EU on boats provided by a network of militias profiting from the trafficking trade. “This proves the government is committed to cooperating with the Libyan authorities to prevent more arrivals and deaths in the Mediterranean Sea.

Earlier in the week, the UN criticised that responsibility for rescues was increasingly being left to Libyan state vessels. The UN said that all search and recuses conducted by the Libyans should be on the condition that no-one is arbitrarily detained or mistreated.

Camilleri said that one of the government’s priories was to strengthen a return system and that it was taking steps to send rejected asylum seekers back. He also added that the government was working on the relocation of migrants to other EU states, saying that 450 migrants had been relocated so far. 

A “considerable” amount of migrants will be relocated in the coming weeks, now that the airport has reopened, Camilleri said.

“I will be clear - I am ready to take criticism,” Camilleri said of his party’s current backlash from Labour voters over concerns on irregular immigration. “I am ready to take criticism from those who criticise us over the thousands intercepted by the Libyan coastguard, or those who criticise because we do not let people drown. We must keep in mind our armed forces who are the target of those who want to crucify them, at an international level, for not serving as a ferry service for those departing from Libya. We are working with European countries and the European Commission on this… we are insisting on promises to be kept.”

Camilleri acknowledged that “Maltese citizens are worried and angered” at Malta having left facing “a problem they had not caused. I am the first to be angered by this. But this government is fighting this problem, daily.”

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