[WATCH] Robert Abela's migration solution: Not allowing boats to leave in the first place

Prime Minister Robert Abela does not elaborate on the Italian government's initiative on immigration policy, which Malta has signed up to

Italy's new far-right government has adopted a tough stand against migrant rescue NGOs operating in the Mediterranean, a position that Malta, Greece and Cyprus have signed up to (File photo)
Italy's new far-right government has adopted a tough stand against migrant rescue NGOs operating in the Mediterranean, a position that Malta, Greece and Cyprus have signed up to (File photo)

Malta has signed a joint statement with Italy and other Mediterranean countries to promote a coordinated approach on immigration policy, the Prime Minister has confirmed, without elaborating.

When asked on Monday about the statement, which Malta quietly signed over the weekend, Abela played down worries that government is aligning itself with Italy's far-right government and its tough anti-migration policy.

“It’s not about aligning ourselves to other countries, but remaining consistent on our migration policy,” Abela said on Monday.

He insisted that the main solution is a coordinated presence to stop boats from departing their country of origin.

“If we stop departures we will cut human trafficking activity and save many people from drowning – for me it’s unacceptable to have all these deaths in the middle of the sea. But to arrive at this solution we have to tackle the issue at source,” he said.

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

However, Malta’s government did not issue a statement outlining its actions. Abela did not elaborate either, when asked about this initiative.

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 joint communication says that pending agreement on an effective, fair and permanent burden sharing mechanism, the four Mediterranean countries "cannot subscribe to the notion that countries of first entry are the only possible European landing spots for illegal immigrants, especially when this happens in an uncoordinated fashion based on the basis of a choice made by private vessels, acting in total autonomy from the competent state authorities."

"We reiterate our position that the modus operandi of these private vessels is not in line with the spirit of the international legal framework concerning Search and Rescue Operations, which should be respected," the countries said, suggesting greater responsibility be borne by the flag states of the NGO ships.

They also asked the European Commission and the EU presidency to take the necessary steps to initiate a discussion on the issues flagged. 

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.