Minister: Preventing migrant departures from Libya crucial to avoiding deaths at sea

Minister Byron Camilleri says human trafficking is ‘sometimes encouraged’, in a subtle reference to human rights NGOs who demand government rescue migrants at sea

File photo
File photo

Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri has insisted “prevention” is the best way to preventing the death of migrants at sea.

“Prevention can save lives. Prevention prevents people from making the crossing,” he said in parliament.

Around 30 migrants were missing and presumed drowned after the overcrowded boat they were on capsized during a rescue attempt by a cargo ship off Libya, Italy's coastguard said on Sunday.

Earlier in March, Malta hosted the MED5 meeting, with Ministers of the Interior and Migration of Malta, Greece, Italy, Spain and Cyprus, discussing a common position on asylum and migration. The ministers also discussed the prevention of irregular arrivals with the new FRONTEX director.

Labour MP Rosianne Cutajar, in a parliamentary question, asked the minister what government is doing to ensure tragedies are prevented in Maltese seas.

The minister said government and other Mediterranean countries expect EU border agency FRONTEX to fight against human trafficking.

“How many people have to die before we decide to take a stand against human trafficking. The keys to Europe cannot be in the hands of human traffickers,” Camilleri said. “I am fed up of the situation.”

He said human trafficking is “sometimes encouraged”, in a subtle reference to human rights NGOs who demand government rescue migrants at sea.

“We as a government feel that asylum status should be granted to those who deserve it. You cannot have economic migrants achieving the same status,” the minister said.

He said relocation policies have their limitations, and only work in small numbers.

“Prevention can save lives. If we had prevention policies in place, those people would not have died,” he said, referring to the group of 30 migrants who died on Sunday.

There is no evidence in the public forum which suggests the 30 who disappeared were economic migrants.

He also said Malta needs to work with “third-countries” to ensure the return of individuals who do not qualify for asylum status.