As Pope appeals for solidarity, Malta PM vows not to allow in migrant rescue NGOs

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said he would not allow Malta to become a centre for migrants rescued by NGOs • Salvini steadfast, 'we won't give in to blackmail' • Pope Francis appeals to EU leaders for solidarity with the migrants

Malta cannot afford to set a precedent by taking in the migrants on board two NGO ships off the country's coast, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said
Malta cannot afford to set a precedent by taking in the migrants on board two NGO ships off the country's coast, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said

Updated at 12.55pm with appeal by Pope Francis

The Prime Minister has stressed that he is not going to allow that Malta become a centre in the Mediterranean for migrants who were saved by humanitarian vessels and that no other countries want to allow to enter their ports.

Joseph Muscat said on Sunday, during a One Radio interview, that it was his responsibility to avoid setting a precedent by accepting to take in the 49 migrants who are currently stranded off Malta’s coast on two NGO ships. He said that the government had to “find a balance between safeguarding people’s lives and not bringing Malta and its national security under threat”.

The ships in question, the Sea-Watch 3, which is carrying 32 migrants, and the Professor Albrecht Penck, carrying another 17, were granted permission to enter Maltese territorial waters for shelter on Wednesday, due to bad weather. No European Union member state has allowed the vessels to enter its port, and Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has been particularly adamant that his country would not be allowing the migrants to disembark in his country.

Muscat said that discussions with the EU are currently taking place with a view on finding a solution to the problem, with Malta wanting to seek reassurances that such a situation does not repeat itself in the future. "...We are discussing with other countries and the EU to tell us whose responsibility this case was, and if a similar situation arises, who takes responsibility.”

He underlined that Malta had no obligation to take the migrants in, and that, in this case, other EU countries had also refused to accept them.

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He said he would not be going into the issue of whether the NGOs which rescued the migrants had followed the instructions of the countries which were responsible for rescuing them. “There are many different opinions on this matter,” he said, “I won’t get into controversies about the dynamic of how this rescue took place.”

“If we take [the migrants] in, would this set a precedent for other occasions? If there are NGOs in the future who do as they please, will Malta have to take care of the matter? No, this is not how things are going to happen,” he emphasised.

“What is we accept to receive them now… and the next time there will a ship with 100 migrants on board, and then 200… will we be told that just as we took them in on one occasion, we’ll have to take them in every time?”

He remarked that if Malta was to relent and allow the ships to enter its port, in the Christmas spirit, when eventually summer comes, other countries would argue that since the country took them in once, it had to continue doing the same.

In clear reference to Italy, Muscat said that “some countries” were trying to “show how tough they are for closing their ports”. He said that Malta had in the past week accepted to take in 249 migrants. “We did this because it was within our obligations to do so… and we did it without dragging our feet. These people were literally drowning, and they were within our search and rescue zone, so the Armed Forces of Malta saved them.”

“So tiny Malta follows the rules, and it then ends up the victim,” he said, “It would be very easy to try to look kind-hearted, but my duty is to ensure that a precedent is not established.”

The Prime Minister added that he hoped that, following the ongoing discussions within the EU, other countries would be ready to do their duty.

Salvini steadfast, “migrants will disembark in Malta”

Meanwhile, Salvini’s resoluteness for Italy to not take the migrants in has been unwavering.

The Italian Interior Minister said Saturday that the migrants on board the two NGO ships should be made to disembark in Malta.

Italy's Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has maintained a hard line on migration since his election
Italy's Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has maintained a hard line on migration since his election

“We won’t give in to blackmail. Two NGO ships are in Maltese territorial water: the people on board should be made to disembark in Valletta,” he said.

Salvini called the EU’s attitude “shameful”. “Evidently lessons in humanity are only addressed to Italy… we do not give in to blackmail and lies,” he emphasised.

Pope Francis appeals for solidarity

Pope Francis appealed for a show of solidarity, in statements following the recital of the Angelus in St Peter's Square today,

"For a number of days, 49 people saved in the Mediterranean find themselves on board two NGO ships, looking for a port to disembark in," the Pope said.

“I am making an urgent appeal to EU leaders to show concrete solidarity towards these people."

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