Joseph Muscat accuses NGOs of unwittingly encouraging migrant smugglers to send people out to sea

The Prime Minister gives a ministerial statement in Parliament on the lengthy migrant standoff that ended last week

Two NGO vessels were stranded outside Malta as the EU tried to find a solution for the disembarkation of 49 migrants
Two NGO vessels were stranded outside Malta as the EU tried to find a solution for the disembarkation of 49 migrants

It is unacceptable for NGO rescue ships to ‘advertise’ their position outside Libyan waters, an action which prompts smugglers to send migrants out to sea, Joseph Muscat said.

The Prime Minister said Malta had no problem with rescue operations being undertaken by NGO groups but insisted they should abide by the law.

“There are instances when some of these NGOs try to make a political point by attempting to reach migrant boats before the Libyan coastguard even though the people on board may not be in a precarious state,” Muscat said.

It is in circumstances like these that problems arise, he continued, because the NGOs refuse to take migrants back to Libya and they end up trying to find an alternative port to disembark the people.

Muscat was speaking in this evenings parliamentary session, during which he gave a ministerial statement on the latest standoff involving 49 migrants stranded on two NGO ships.

The ships had been denied a port of safety in Malta and Italy. The migrants spent days just off Malta’s coast until several EU countries accepted to share the migrants between them.

Admitting he was being controversial in his remarks, Muscat said it was unacceptable for some NGO ships to give their position at sea on social media.

“The moment they do this it sends off a ping and we see boats departing from Libyan shores directed towards these ships… I do not agree with conspiracy theorists who argue that the NGOs are in cahoots with people smugglers but these people monitor social media and use this to their ends,” Muscat said.

Libyan coastguard

The Prime Minister said that the Libyan coastguard was doing a good job and had to be allowed to work. UN reports showed that the Libyan coastguard, which has received funds and training from EU member states, rescued 14,000 migrants last year.

However, he added that the need to improve the conditions and human rights of migrants kept in Libyan detention centres was raised in recent talks with the Libyan president.

Muscat thanked the Opposition for its support in the latest migrant standoff.

Opposition leader Adrian Delia said he was constantly being informed by the Prime Minister of developments throughout the crisis.

Delia said he had been concerned about the fate of the children aboard the NGO vessels but had constant reassurance that the situation was under control.

The Opposition leader said saving lives should remain of paramount importance.

He asked whether Malta was holding talks with Italy to prevent future standoffs.

Muscat replied that contrary to the perception created by some provocative comments made by elements within the Italian government, the relations between Malta and Italy were “very good”.

On migration, Malta and Italy were on the same page, Muscat insisted. “It couldn’t be otherwise… we will not fall for provocation but my ministers tell me that relations with their counterparts were good and I am building a rapport with the Italian prime minister,” he added.