Updated | Government denies existence of ‘secret Malta migrant deal’ with Italy

Italian newspaper claimed Italy was taking in Malta’s share of refugees in exchange for oil exploration rights off Sicily

The Italian government launched Operation Mare Nostrum following the tragedy off Lampedusa on 3 October 2013
The Italian government launched Operation Mare Nostrum following the tragedy off Lampedusa on 3 October 2013

Government sources have categorically denied the existence of a “secret migrant deal” with Italy, following claims that the country was taking in Malta’s share in exchange for oil exploration rights off Sicily.

“It is a fabricated lie,” the sources insisted.

In an official statement, the government reiterated there was no agreement, formal or informal, with the Italian government. “Italy and Malta have been collaborating closely for the past few years to make sure that people are saved at sea,” it said.

“Disembarkation of migrants rescued at sea is always conducted as per applicable international obligations, and as per respective operational plans in case of participation in Frontex or any other operation. Malta has been devoting 100% of its resources to save immigrants at sea.”

The government said there were “absolutely no discussions or agreements linking migration with oil exploration”.

“Reports stating the contrary are factually wrong,” it stated.

Il Giornale, owned by the Berlusconi family, picked up media reports in Malta quoting Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela saying there was an “informal agreement” between Italy and Malta to take in rescued people. Abela had issued a clarification saying there was no such agreement but "a close collaboration" between Italy and Malta in missions to save lives.

Malta, he added, always followed the EU’s operational plan.

A spokesperson for the Home Affairs Ministry, when contacted, said it was standing by its clarification.

Il Giornale quotes an unnamed source in Malta who told the newspaper of “suspicions that may involve oil exploration disputes”. It goes on to state that even people rescued by the Migrant Offshore Aid Station disembark in Sicily.

Il Gironale said that Malta has been taking in fewer migrants ever since Matteo Renzi became leader of the country. It said, that the people rescued at sea also wanted to be saved by the Italians.

“We receive all the ships. The good relationship between the two centre-left governments in Rome and Valletta has played an important role. Matteo Renzi last met Joseph Muscat on 3 September. Yet, it doesn’t look like he enquired why Malta received only 93 migrants while we received over 100,000 this year,” the newspaper added.

Following the tragedy off Lampedusa on 3 October 2013 – when 400 refugees from Syria and Palestine lost their lives a shipwreck – the Italian government under prime minister Enrico Letta launched Operation Mare Nostrum.

The Italian government radically changed its rescue policy at sea, taking responsibility for the lives at sea that even fall under the Maltese government’s responsibility.

During a media briefing on Tuesday evening, Abela was questioned over Italy’s decision. Describing Italy’s position as a sign of “political maturity”, Abela said Malta’s limited resources made it difficult to keep up with the thousands of asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean.

It also appeared to be one way of solving disagreements out at sea on who should take them in.

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