Muscat: Europe has ‘abandoned’ Malta and Italy

Prime Minister says Europe ‘should be ashamed’ for leaving Malta and Italy to their own devices to rescue asylum seekers at sea

Joseph Muscat Photo: Ray Attard
Joseph Muscat Photo: Ray Attard

Accusing the EU of abandoning Malta and Italy, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat today thanked his Italian counterpart Matteo Renzi and the US government for rescuing hundreds of asylum seekers at sea over the past couple of days.

In an interview on the Labour Party’s radio station, Muscat said that despite a lower number of migrant arrivals this year, “the problem has not gone away.”

Yesterday, five asylum seekers arrived in Malta after being airlifted by a US Navy aircraft following a rescue operation led by Malta, Italy and the US military which involved 25 migrant boats. Earlier today, 128 migrants, 11 of them women, were brought to Malta after being saved from a dinghy about 100 miles from Malta.

Muscat explained that over the past 48 hours, tens of boats carrying migrants towards Europe were at sea and government was working closely with the Italian government to address the “humanitarian crisis.”

Muscat added that the Armed Forces of Malta were as “busy as ever” saving lives at sea together with Italian and US military forces, while Europe “has forgotten us all.”

Noting that in one day alone, Italy received 2,600 asylum seekers, Muscat said “Europe should be ashamed” for leaving Malta and Italy, who had to seek help from the US, to their own devices.

Insisting that Malta had a duty to save lives at a time when the Mediterranean was facing a humanitarian crisis, Muscat said he would not pander to racist and xenophobe sentiments.

Turning to the national political scene, Muscat accused the PN leader Simon Busuttil of being “scared” of facing the Parliamentary committee of privileges to substantiate his claims that the prime minister had interfered in the police investigations in the John Dalli case.

This week, Busuttil once again did not turn up at the committee meeting investigating his claims, with the opposition insisting Busuttil had nothing to add to his previous comments he made inside and outside Parliament.

Instead, the PN said it would be presenting a number of witnesses, including the chief of the EU’s anti-corruption office, Giovanni Kessler, whose investigations had led to the resignation of former EU Commissioner John Dalli.

“The opposition leader has not understood the electorate’s message, and once again he went into hiding as he did on the civil union s bill.”

Insisting that the European Parliament elections - which Labour won by a staggering 33,000 votes - was now history, Muscat said the government would “give its 200%” and implement a number of measures including the decriminalisation of drugs, address precarious jobs, pension reform and the repatriation of assets.

Sounding a positive note on the country’s economy, the prime minister said that “not only are new jobs being created, but unemployment is down.” Explaining that government would be helping the “genuinely unemployed,” he stressed “since being elected we have doubled the rate of job creation and unemployment is below the levels registered in the PN government’s last month in office.”

This would be achieved by introducing a number of initiatives, including the youth guarantee and measures incentivising the employment of persons over 45 and the long-term unemployed, Muscat said.

He added that government would “clamp down on persons abusing the welfare system” who Muscat said were syphoning taxpayer money.

On addressing precarious job conditions, Muscat said government was in the process of finalising its plans which would bring “big changes.”

Moving to the country specific recommendations issued by the European Commission, Muscat said his government would double its efforts to convince the commission that its plans to reform the pension system were on track, without needing to increase the pensionable age.

Transport and traffic management, Muscat added, would be on the country’s agenda for years to come, adding that the shortcomings in the sector were impacting productivity.