Malta showing it is being reasonable in its approach to migration - Prime Minister

Relocation to France of 150 of the 356 migrants aboard the Ocean Viking who were brought in to Malta will be EU's biggest ever, Joseph Muscat says

Joseph Muscat gave his comments during a short interview on One Radio this morning
Joseph Muscat gave his comments during a short interview on One Radio this morning

The way the government is accepting to take in migrants rescued by NGO vessels after reaching agreements for them to be redistributed amongst other EU countries is showing that Malta is a country which can be reasoned with when it comes to migration, the Prime Minister said.

Joseph Muscat emphasised that Malta was safeguarding its national interest and standing firm, but was also willing to be part of the solution to the ongoing migration crisis, instead of “stamping its feet and being hard-headed”.

Muscat, who was speaking during a brief interview on One Radio on Sunday morning, said that all migrants who were taken in to Malta following redistribution agreements with other member states were indeed being relocated. He said that any allegations that such migrants were actually ending up staying in Malta were untrue.

The Prime Minister’s comments come after the government on Friday accepted to bring in all 356 migrants board the Ocean Viking - who had been stranded at sea for two weeks - after it reached a redistribution agreement with several EU countries.

France, he said, would be taking in 150 migrants, in what amounted to “the biggest relocation procedure which has ever taken place in the EU."

The rest of the 356 will be taken by other countries, but it was up to these member states to decide whether to announce publicly how many they would take in, although the government had in its hands pledges in writing as to the relocation numbers, he said.

“We brought in the people from the Ocean Viking to Malta for processing, and they will subsequently be taken to a number of other countries, from which we have the written pledges,” Muscat said, “[…] None of these people will remain in Malta, and they will only be hosted here temporarily.”

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Although the migrants on board the NGO vessel weren’t Malta nor Italy’s responsibility, Muscat said the government wanted to adopt a very different attitude to its Italian counterpart in dealing with the situation.

“Malta and Italy had nothing to do with this. But we wanted to adopt a very different attitude, and did so after discussing the matter at the highest level, with the European Commission, and other countries, including France and Germany.

“The Commission, and France and Germany agreed [the Ocean Viking] wasn’t Malta’s responsibility, and that we couldn’t shoulder the burden. So these two countries sent the signal that they are recognising Malta’s efforts.”

He said that, this week, France had sent in a plane to relocated a number of migrants which had been brought to Malta previously, and that Germany would be doing the same next week for another group.

Malta’s way of dealing with the matter, the Prime Minister said, was showing that the country was a reasonable one which was open to cooperation in solving the matter.

“I am proud of how our country is acting in this situation,” Muscat said, as he thanked army personnel for their capable and professional work in handling complicated rescue operations.