Malta joins Italy’s far-right government in Brussels lament on migration

Malta, Italy, Greece and Cyprus have complained on the lack of EU solidarity on migrant relocations and accuse NGO rescue boats of acting outside international law

File photo
File photo

Malta has joined Italy, Greece and Cyprus in requesting urgent EU action on migration as tensions rise over Italy’s hard-line stance against NGO rescue ships.

Italian media have reported that Malta and the other frontline Mediterranean countries joined the initiative taken by Italy’s Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi.

Malta’s government has not issued a statement outlining its actions.

In the joint communication, the countries complain about the failure of the EU migrant relocation mechanism and the actions of NGO rescue boats, which they claim do not respect international law.

The development comes as Italy’s new government led by far-right Giorgia Meloni is adopting a hard stand against NGOs operating in the central Mediterranean.

Italy has already clashed with France after one of the rescue ships, Ocean Viking, was denied entry into Italian ports to disembark migrants and after a three-week standoff, France allowed the ship to sail into the port of Toulon.

France described Italy’s actions as inhumane and called for EU member states to boycott Italy. The French stand was rebuked by Italy and now in a joint communication with other Mediterranean states, the European Commission is being asked to intervene.

Italy, Malta, Greece and Cyprus are the EU’s frontline states for migrants making dangerous sea crossings in the Mediterranean and have long complained of lack of solidarity from other member states in dealing with migrant arrivals.

Meloni’s government is introducing laws criminalising the actions of NGOs that do not cooperate with government instructions when rescuing migrants. NGOs could face hefty fines and threats to sequester their boats.

NGOs are pushing back against Italy’s tough stand, insisting that their actions are saving lives at sea in the absence of government interventions on the high seas.

Several NGOs operate rescue vessels that are flagged in other European countries with Italy insisting that the flag states should also shoulder the burden of migrant arrivals.

Thousands of migrants every year flee from Libya’s vast coastline in a bid to reach Europe but the sea crossings in flimsy boats have also led to many deaths.

Malta has since 2020, adopted an unofficial non-communication policy with the media on migrant rescues and the army does not communicate with NGOs that flag migrant boats at risk.