‘Asylum seekers should apply for protection nearer to home’

Home affairs minister Manuel Mallia outlines Maltese government’s policy on improving EU response to migration flows from African continent

Home Affairs minister Manuel Mallia and justice minister Owen Bonnici at the European Council
Home Affairs minister Manuel Mallia and justice minister Owen Bonnici at the European Council

Minister for Home Affairs and National Security, Manuel Mallia has called on the European Commission to go beyond “a descriptive list of actions” and act swiftly to implement measures identified by the Task Force Mediterranean on migration, with clear target dates and priorities.

Illegal immigration was high on the agenda of the EU’s Justice and Home Affairs meeting in Luxembourg today during which EU ministers were briefed about development with the Task Force Mediterranean.

In a statement by the government, during the Council Mallia was said to have warned that the work of the Task Force “risks dying a natural death if all it is used for is to catalogue the actions everyone is taking.”

Mallia said Malta was “sharing in the daily efforts of saving lives at sea” with Italy, whose Mare Nostrum operations have so far resulted in the rescue of 40,000 lives at sea.

Few boat arrivals were registered in Malta as a result.

“The situation in the Mediterranean remains critical. Libya’s ability to control its borders is clearly compromised, whilst some of the countries of origin whose nationals commonly arrive on EU soil, many via Libya, continue experiencing the same crises they have had to endure over the previous years. The implications of these factors, in terms of irregular migration, are obvious,” Mallia said.

The minister urged the Commission to “go beyond a descriptive list of actions and move to a more strategic approach” by outlining “what should be done, how and when, with indicative target dates and prioritisation.”

In a reflection of the Maltese government’s current thinking on migration since the Lampedusa tragedy that claimed the lives of 368 men, women and children in October 2013, Mallia said EU efforts should be “preventing illegal migration flows”.

He suggested that a three-pronged approach should “publicise the dangers of irregular migration and the realities in Europe”, dismantle migrant smuggling networks; and allow asylum seekers to obtain protection in countries next to their countries of origin “without risking life and limb, not to mention exposure to exploitation.”

Mallia also said that return and readmission agreements were a priority, to discourage unsuccessful claimants for asylum and to show that “illegal migration to the EU is not a viable option.”

Mallai augured for the launch of a pilot project on returns, in as short time as possible.

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