Abela: Three-month arrest of Malian migrants ‘not a show of force’

With member states arguing that they can’t fill the skills gap in their countries, Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela says ‘a holistic’ approach to migration is key

Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela
Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela

The arrest of nine Malian migrants that lasted three months – before being released for lack of documentation from their country of origin – was not a show of force, Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela said today.

Abela was invited for a phone-in on RTK’s radio programme ‘newsbook’, where MaltaToday’s executive editor Matthew Vella was invited as a guest.

As Abela went on about the need for “a holistic” approach to migration, which would include solutions for member states who are complaining of a shortage of skilled workers, Vella asked: “If this is the case, then why order the migrants’ deportation? Was it just a show of force at an EU level to give the impression that something’s being done?”

The minister insisted that this was not the case, reminding that a deportation can only take place if the country of origin sends over the necessary documentation for a readmission.

“This fear that a migrant will be sent back immediately if he or she doesn’t present the necessary documents is baseless, because documentation has to come from both ends,” Abela said. He was referring to the new requirements set by the Office of the Refugee Commissioner, which are now set to be changed again following public uproar.

He insisted that the rounding up of the Malians was a EU initiative, not Malta’s. An identification mission from Mali came to Malta which identified 10 of 33 Malians held by Maltese police. Following the visit, nine were kept in detention with the Maltese authorities awaiting the arrival of documentation from Mali to make the deportation possible. The documents never arrived and the migrants were finally released from detention.

The minister said a solution on EU level was required to address the “grey area”: in Malta, there are some 1,300 people who are failed asylum seekers but have been granted temporary humanitarian protection (THPn). There are those who remain in Malta because the authorities have not been able to return them, through no fault of their own. Years roll on and these individuals would have integrated in Maltese society, working and paying taxes.

“This is the grey area which we need to discuss, also in view of how people coming to Europe can contribute to EU’s economy. But Malta can’t act independently if we want to achieve consensus on a common asylum policy. Building a wall is wrong… as wrong as an individual country acting on its own, disturbing common policies.”