Italy taking in thousands of migrants

Italian Minister claims 600,000 could be waiting to cross the Mediterranean

National Security Minister Manuel Mallia
National Security Minister Manuel Mallia
Home Affairs Minister Manuel Mallia

As hundreds of thousands of migrants wait to cross the Mediterranean, Italy was taking in thousands others, National Security Minister Manuel Mallia said.

On Workers’ Day, Mallia visited the Air Wing of the Armed Forces of Malta were technicians were working on the AFM’s air fleet, part of the routine scheduled maintenance.

Mallia confirmed that the government had information that up to 600,000 migrants were ready to cross the Mediterranean. This was first reported by Italy’s interior minister Angelino Alfano.

“The Maltese government is well aware of this phenomenon and we are preparing ourselves. Recently I held several meetings, including bilateral meetings, to discuss the matter with those countries who are particularly hit,” the minister said.

One of the options being suggested at EU level was the setting up of refugee camps in Libya. According to Mallia, this was an option that could be studied.

“I am not saying I agree with it. But once it has been suggested, it should be studied and see what impact it could have.”

The situation in Libya remains critical and the Libyan government has not yet put in place effective measures to safeguard human rights. According to a booklet published by the Jesuit Refugee Service, on the repatriation of asylum seekers, migrants would rather “die than return” to Libya.

All asylum seekers that were interviewed by JRS described a life of constant fear and insecurity - a life of total powerlessness shaped by forces beyond their control, where the only option they have is to risk their lives in search of protection elsewhere.

According to Mallia, Malta was experiencing an influx of boats passing by on a daily basis. Only last night, 11 boats were taken in by Italy.

“Italy is taking in thousands of migrants,” the minister said.

The tragedy off Lampedusa on 3 October 2013 that sparked off the Operation Mare Nostrum has led the Italian government to radically change its rescue policy at sea, and is now taking responsibility for the lives at sea that even fall under the Maltese government’s responsibility.

Operation Mare Nostrum includes the use of amphibious ships, unmanned drones and long-range helicopters with infrared equipment, with six navy ships, each with crews of between 80 to 250 men, deployed in October.

“The Italian coast guard has been ordered by the Italian government to intervene and collect any boat people that even the Maltese authorities are technically obliged to intervene and collect,” a high government official told MaltaToday last month.

Mallia also confirmed that interministerial talks were ongoing in preparation for the traditional summer arrivals. The talks are being held between Mallia’s ministry, the health ministry and the ministry for social solidarity.

The latter has an important part to play as government had pledged not to allow unaccompanied minors to be held in detention centres.