Detention of unaccompanied child migrants 'to end soon' – Muscat

Government’s plans to free detained child migrants from detention will only apply to unaccompanied migrants

Describing the last seven days as “a beautiful week,” Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told Labour supporters in Zurrieq that Labour’s ‘Malta for All’ mantra was being implemented and his government was successfully turning Malta into “a land of innovation, opportunity and equality.”

In his speech, Muscat made it clear that his government’s plans to end detention for child migrants would only be applicable to unaccompanied minors. He also announced his government's intention to offer support services to children and teenagers who fall victim of cyber bullying.

Expressing his anger at MEPA’s decision to grant Malta Freeport a year-long permit to repair oil rigs, Muscat said “Although MEPA is autonomous, we will not tolerate such decisions and for the first time we will appeal a MEPA decision.”

Addressing Labour supports this morning, Muscat added that his government is “pro-business but the people come first and we have to protect the national interest.”

Turning to migration, Muscat said that although his stance is often criticised for being “too tough” the country needed a two-pronged approach on migration; a humanitarian and a security approach.

“While there’s no doubt that we will save people’s lives as we have always done, failed asylum seekers need to be repatriated,” he said.

Muscat noted that that the deal struck with Nigeria this week to repatriate 155 persons who entered Malta “illegally” and had their asylum application refused was the “way forward.”

He added that these asylum seekers would be deported after receiving guarantees by the Nigerian government that their rights will be upheld and they would not be imprisoned or tortured on their return.

“We need to be tough on migration but we also need to be loyal to our principles,” Muscat said that over the past year he had realised that unaccompanied child migrants were locked up in detention centres which look like “prisons” and the minors were treated like animals.  

Stressing that Malta would be cooperating with other countries on the matter, he said “Nobody can tell us that children are terrorists,” adding that in the coming weeks the detention of unaccompanied child migrants will come to an end.

Touching on recent tragedies, such as the death of 15-year-old girl Lisa Maria Zahra who died after being reported missing, Muscat said “as a father, in recent weeks I am concerned by what was recently reported on tragedies involving underage persons and cyber bullying”

Stressing that it’s “not a question of censoring social networks but a question of educating parents and children,” the prime minister said that government has a responsibility to offer counselling services to children and teenagers who suffer from cyber bullying “before its too late.”

He said this would be a priority for his government and political consensus exists on offering support services to victims of bullying.

Turning to the sanguineous partisan arena, Muscat described the Nationalist Party’s new equal opportunities branch as an “April Fool’s joke,” and underlined the opposition’s incoherency and ambiguity over the civil unions bill.

Labour newspaper KullHadd today reported that the opposition is divided on the civil unions bill and is poised to abstain in the final Parliamentary vote. The newspaper said that while deputy leader for Parliamentary Affairs Mario de Marco believes that PN should vote in favour, deputy leader for party affairs Beppe Fenech Adami is against.

Insisting that former prime minister Lawrence Gonzi and a minority within the PN are not opposed to allowing same-sex parents to adopt children as long as applicants are thoroughly vetted by experts, Muscat called on PN leader Simon Busuttil to vote for the civil unions bill.

“If the PN wants to be taken seriously on equality, the biggest test for the opposition leader is to vote with government in favour of the civil unions bill,” Muscat said, adding that Busuttil should not be held hostage of extremists within the Nationalist Party.