[WATCH] Migrants being sent out to sea with Valletta on their GPS, Evarist Bartolo claims

The Foreign Minister says NGO migrant rescue ships are acting as a magnet for people smugglers to send migrants out to sea at a time when ports in the Mediterranean are closed because of the COVID-19 crisis

Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo
Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo

Migrants were being sent out to sea by human smugglers with Valletta recorded on their GPS, Evarist Bartolo has claimed.

The Foreign Minister said there were thousands of migrants in Libya ready to leave and these were being directed towards Malta.

“Our centres are full and we cannot accept more people at a time when the country’s resources are focussed on combatting the COVID-19 pandemic and ports of other countries are closed,” Bartolo said in an interview on TVM’s Xtra on Thursday night.

He reiterated his criticism of migrant rescue ships operated by NGOs, accusing them of acting as a magnet for human smugglers to send people out to sea.

He insisted that the Mediterranean had been quiet this year until the arrival of the Alan Kurdi, a rescue ship from Germany, which advertised its coordinates.

Migrant rescue ships that chose to operate in the Mediterranean at this time, with full knowledge that many countries’ ports are closed, are “irresponsible”, he added.

“At the moment, it is certainly irresponsible for a [migrant rescue] ship from Germany to come to the Mediterranean, three or four thousand kilometres away from its country,” Bartolo said.

While acknowledging that migrant boats will still be sent out into the Mediterranean even if there are no NGO ships to rescue them, Bartolo insisted the presence of such ships encouraged human smugglers to intensify their efforts.

The Foreign Minister said NGO rescue ships had a vital role to play but a way must be found for them to fit into the system, instead of working independently.

“I do believe that they have an important role, but they need to be regulated. Let us regulate these affairs. Let us give a role to NGOs but let it be regulated, and let us also give a role to states and institutions,” he said.

He reiterated Malta’s proposal for an EU €100 million aid package for Libya that could be used to fund international organisations already working in the north African state.

Bartolo bemoaned the EU’s lack of action in these trying circumstances, claiming that “we have to remind them that the Mediterranean even exists”.

The Foreign Minister expressed his shock at the lack of European solidarity, even with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that many EU countries stopped the exports of medicine and medical equipment.

“This is a very difficult time for the European Union, because what is currently most lacking is the word ‘union’,” Bartolo said.

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