Updated | Minister says evacuation of Maltese from Libya ‘off the cards for now’

Foreign affairs minister says only 67 of 130 Maltese citizens had chosen to fly back to Malta on government organised flights

Foreign affairs minister George Vella today said he would not delve into the abduction of a Maltese man in Libya, as this would not benefit the operations underway to free the man.

Explaining that an evacuation “isn’t on the cards” the minister said that only 67 out of the 130 Maltese citizens in Libya had flown on a number of flights chartered by government.

He explained that there was an understanding between EU countries over a joint operation to evacuate foreigners from Libya, adding that any possible evacuation did not depend on Malta alone.

“I assure the opposition leader that we are prepared, we are shouldering our responsibilities and we are in the process of identifying how many beds would be needed, how many tents would be needed and we are involving all ministries,” Vella said, adding that government had already identified the number of foreigners in Libya, including 13,000 Filipino nationals.

Government, Vella said, was undertaking all necessary preparations to ensure that “malta isn’t overwhelmed by a wave of evacuees.”

He said that “in these difficult circumstances it is difficult to tell who was in control in Libya,” adding that government had not changed its stance on the need to support the country in its transition to democracy.

However he warned that Malta cannot get involved in the internal conflicts between warring militias, which he hinted were being armed by foreign powers. He added that fighters from Iraq and Syria had infiltrated Islamist militias in the east of the country and called on Libyans to reject fundamentalism before its too late.

He however said that he was “annoyed” by accusations that government “isn’t doing anything” on the situation in Libya and explained that government was prepared for any eventuality as it was when the consul in Benghazi was evacuated within 30 minutes after learning that he was targeted by militias.

As Parliament discussed the opposition’s motion on Libya, Vella said he had no doubts that both sides of the House had the same intention in ensuring that Maltese citizens in Libya were safe and sound, however he warned against “creating panic and alarm.”

Insisting that the opposition’s motion wrongly assumed that government was unprepared to deal with the Libya situation, the veteran minister said that the Maltese ambassador had returned to Tripoli on Sunday 20 July after attending a conference in Malta.

While insisting that he had no problem in debating the issue in Parliament, he argued that he would have rather kept the discussion at a private level. 

Vella added that he had made it clear to the opposition’s spokesperson on foreign affairs Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici that he was prepared to discuss things and keep the opposition informed at all times.

However, Mifsud Bonnici argued “I was waiting for the ministry to contact me and I got no call in two weeks.” To this the minister replied “I told you to come visit my office anytime you wanted but you never did.”

Vella confirmed that government had set up a crisis unit, as reported by MaltaToday earlier today, adding that the operational unit had been running since 15 July, and since then it had made 3,041 telephone calls and a further 534 calls were received by Maltese citizens in Libya.

Vella also said that he was unaware of the outcome on the investigation on Malta’s consul in Libya, who he said was back in Tripoli “risking her life to carry out her duties.”

In May, Malta’s consul in Tripoli Dr Marisa Farrugia was recalled back to Malta for urgent police questioning, after police took action in a request by the government over documented evidence of extensive fraud in the Maltese embassy, in the issuing of travel visas.

Earlier, opposition leader Simon Busuttil asked whether government was prepared and willing to aid Libya exit the current crisis which has thrown the country in “chaos” and shed doubts whether the Labour administration was prepared for the possible evacuation of thousands of foreign workers from the North African country.

As Parliament discussed the opposition’s motion on the state of affairs in Libya, Busuttil posed a number of questions on whether government was prepared for a possible crisis as it was in 2011, when around 20,000 evacuees were brought to Malta when Muammar Gaddafi was toppled following a popular uprising.

“Does Malta have a plan in case mass evacuations are needed? Is government necessarily prepared to address the situation as it is developing?” he asked.

The PN leader added that “a stable Libya could be a force of wealth in the Mediterranean which would benefit us, and on the flip side an unstable Libya would have a destabilising effect on the whole region.”

Urging government to show leadership and be transparent, Busuttil called on government to keep the opposition in the loop as the previous PN administration did during the 2011 conflict.  

Protesting that the opposition was now learning things through the media, Busuttil insisted that Libya’s transition to democracy was in Malta’s best interest.