Euro­pean Com­mis­sion: ‘Malta be­haved ac­cord­ing to in­ter­na­tional rules’ in Aquarius case

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EU Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean Claude Juncker told Prime Min­is­ter Joseph Mus­cat that ac­cord­ing to the Com­mis­sion’s ap­praisal, Malta be­haved ac­cord­ing to in­ter­na­tional rules in the Aquarius case.

The Aquarius, is a res­cue ship in the mid­dle of an in­ter­na­tional dis­pute af­ter res­cu­ing 629 mi­grants within Libyan ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters, which be­longs to NGO Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders (MSF) and the SOS Mediter­ra­neee char­ity. Both Malta and Italy re­fused it per­mis­sion to land, with Spain de­cid­ing to take in the mi­grants, who are now on their way to Va­len­cia.

Prime Min­is­ter Mus­cat briefed Pres­i­dent Juncker about the bi­lat­eral re­la­tions with Italy and ex­pressed his hope that these would be nor­malised. They also dis­cussed the pend­ing Com­mis­sion pro­pos­als on the mi­gra­tion pack­age and the next steps to be taken.

Prime Min­is­ter Joseph Mus­cat yes­ter­day also called for greater reg­u­la­tion of NGOs who work to save mi­grants in search and res­cue op­er­a­tions in the Mediter­ranean.

“The role of NGOs is im­por­tant and they per­form well, es­pe­cially when in­ter­ven­ing when there is a need. How­ever, you can­not have NGOs, as we have seen, ad­ver­tis­ing that be­cause they are not en­gaged in any specific mis­sion, any­one who needs help can call them. Ul­ti­mately, it is the lives of those out at sea are the most im­por­tant,” Mus­cat told The Malta In­de­pen­dent when fac­ing ques­tions from the press.

“We are spend­ing mil­lions of EU tax­pay­ers’ money on the Libyan coast guard for im­proved train­ing and equip­ment so they can bet­ter man­age the sit­u­a­tion. If they are not equipped enough, we need to make sure they are.”

Mus­cat was asked whether the Mediter­ranean could po­ten­tially face a num­ber of diplo­matic crises through­out the sum­mer, given Italy's ap­par­ent po­si­tion on the is­sue and the num­ber of mi­grants who will at­tempt to cross the Mediter­ranean dur­ing the sea­son.

He stressed that the num­ber of cross­ings in the Mediter­ranean has ac­tu­ally de­creased, ref­er­enc­ing UNHCR fig­ures which show that boat ar­rivals have dropped by 70%.

“It is easy to bash the EU, but they have done well. The mea­sures taken, through the Val­letta sum­mit, in Chad and Niger are leav­ing a pos­i­tive ef­fect.

“There will be prob­lems, there will be is­sues, and the EU Coun­cil will not find a magic so­lu­tion, but through dis­cus­sions, we may at least reach a com­mon un­der­stand­ing in fol­low­ing reg­u­la­tions. The crit­i­cism tak­ing place is not di­rected at Malta,” he con­tin­ued.

“They agree with our po­si­tion, we fol­lowed all in­ter­na­tional reg­u­la­tions. This all hap­pened be­cause Italy did not fol­low the rules. We would also like to re­mind peo­ple that Malta has al­ways fol­lowed reg­u­la­tions. Malta is one of the few coun­tries who took the full quo­tas from Italy and Greece, and we have the sec­ond high­est rate of asy­lum ap­pli­ca­tions.”

On Spain's in­ter­ven­tion, while thank­ful, Mus­cat said that, “we can­not rely on ges­tures, there needs to be a more or­gan­ised sys­tem. If ev­ery­one fol­lows the rules, we will all be in a bet­ter po­si­tion.”

The PM also said that any po­ten­tial changes to the Dublin Reg­u­la­tion were im­plau­si­ble, but stressed it was not due to ris­ing ten­sions be­tween Italy, France, and Malta, when asked about the up­com­ing dis­cus­sions.

“The di­vided has been mostly be­tween east and west; and the way we en­vis­age mi­gra­tion and mi­gra­tion pol­icy,” Mus­cat said.

He also noted that the shift in pol­icy by the Ital­ian gov­ern­ment needed to be evaluated both lo­cally and on EU level.

“There is still a draft pa­per be­tween Mediter­ranean coun­tries in this re­gard. Of­fi­cially this has not changed, but in real terms, we have seen a shift,” Mus­cat said ex­plain­ing that it was im­por­tant to wait for of­fi­cial sum­mits to dis­cuss these is­sues, rather than re­ly­ing on com­ments made on so­cial me­dia. Mus­cat will be meet­ing his Ital­ian coun­ter­part at the EU Coun­cil meet­ing be­tween 28 and 29 June.

“Our in­ten­tion is to main­tain our good re­la­tion­ship with the Ital­ian gov­ern­ment. We hope what has hap­pened is just a blip.”

Malta’s ter­ri­to­rial wa­ters not up for grabs

In a state­ment yes­ter­day evening, the Mal­tese gov­ern­ment also said that Italy’s Min­is­ter of In­fra­struc­ture and Trans­port Danilo Toninelli’s claims that Malta can­not pa­trol its Search and Res­cue Re­gion and that un­less it does so, Italy will take it over, are wrong.

“Such a state­ment has no le­gal and po­lit­i­cal ba­sis and un­for­tu­nately shows that the Min­is­ter is ei­ther mis­in­formed or wants to stir a use­less con­tro­versy.

“It must be made clear that Malta ful­fils its obli­ga­tions and abides by all ap­pli­ca­ble con­ven­tions in­clud­ing its obli­ga­tions within our Search and Res­cue Re­gion. In the last years Malta has in­vested mil­lions in up­grad­ing its equip­ment and has all the nec­es­sary means to co­or­di­nate all SAR events inside its area.

“Dur­ing the past years Malta has never ig­nored a sin­gle case inside Mal­tese SRR. In ad­di­tion, the Mal­tese Gov­ern­ment does not re­ceive any funds for the con­trol of its SAR area. SAR is a ser­vice ren­dered by the state with­out any pay­ments.

“Any funds re­ceived were funds re­lated to ex­ter­nal border con­trol un­der EU funds which has noth­ing to do with SAR. It must also be noted that Italy re­ceives mil­lions from this same fund.

“The Ital­ian Min­is­ter’s state­ments may be in­ter­preted as though this is­sue has noth­ing to do with mi­gra­tion but is rather a ter­ri­to­rial is­sue. It is a base­less and friv­o­lous at­tempt to try to im­pinge on the sovereignty of a neigh­bour­ing coun­try.”

Met­sola pushes for new method to help mi­gra­tion cri­sis: dis­em­barka­tion lo­ca­tions out­side EU

Na­tion­al­ist MEP Roberta Met­sola yes­ter­day pushed a novel idea to help improve the Euro­pean mi­gra­tion cri­sis in the mid­dle of a dis­cus­sion on the is­sue fol­low­ing the Aquarius in­ci­dent; dis­em­barka­tion lo­ca­tions out­side the Euro­pean Union.

She was speak­ing dur­ing a Euro­pean Par­lia­ment dis­cus­sion on 'hu­man­i­tar­ian emer­gen­cies in the Mediter­ranean and sol­i­dar­ity in the EU' where MEPs spoke about im­me­di­ate, mid-term and longterm goals fol­low­ing the Aquarius in­ci­dent last Mon­day.

Two days ago, 629 mi­grants on the Aquarius res­cue ship, were stuck in in­ter­na­tional wa­ters off the coast of Italy and Malta, both of which de­nied it en­try. Spain ended up of­fer­ing the Aquarius safe har­bour. The sit­u­a­tion was de­bated to­day in Euro­pean Par­lia­ment.

Met­sola's medium term pro­posal con­sisted of a dis­em­barka­tion lo­ca­tion in 'safe third coun­tries out­side the Union.'

“In the medium term we need to think out­side the box and look se­ri­ously into hav­ing EU-run dis­em­barka­tion lo­ca­tions in safe third coun­tries out­side the Union,” she said.

“With EU stan­dards, where any­one saved from the dark sea can be dis­em­barked im­me­di­ately, res­cued, vet­ted, pro­cessed in full recog­ni­tion of their rights - by EASO for ex­am­ple - and ei­ther re­turned or re­set­tled. We have the money to do it and we must find the will to do it.”

Speak­ing at the be­gin­ning of the ple­nary, EP Pres­i­dent An­to­nio Ta­jani em­pha­sised that “this is about the whole of the Euro­pean Union”.

“The whole of the EU is at risk,” he said. “Sin­gle mem­ber states will not han­dle this alone. We need a short, mid and long-term so­lu­tion.”

Ta­jani re­it­er­ated the short-term plans as stop­ping mi­gra­tory flows, the mid-term plans as im­prov­ing con­ver­sa­tion with Libyan gov­ern­ment and the long-term plan as in­creas­ing the bud­get and long-term in­vest­ment in Africa.

“We need a gen­uine so­lu­tion for a his­tor­i­cal prob­lem,” he said.

‘Salivini is a sign of the racism grow­ing in the EU' Ital­ian MEP

Many Ital­ian MEPs who were present at the dis­cus­sion de­fended In­te­rior Min­is­ter Mat­teo Salivini's de­ci­sion not to al­low the boat to har­bour in Italy.

“Let's not have dou­ble stan­dards,” said MEP Ig­nazio Car­rao from Movi­mento 5 Stelle. “Italy has been left alone by other mem­ber states and had to address a con­ti­nent that is on the move.”

MEP Mara Biz­zotto added that “Italy has been tricked on im­mi­gra­tion for so many years.”

MEP Laura Fer­rara stated that the Aquarius in­ci­dent shows that Italy “has been left to its own de­vices.”

MEP Bar­bara Spinelli com­mented that Malta is “not in­volved in the SAR re­forms and does not seem to be ful­fill­ing its obli­ga­tions.”

How­ever, MEP ELeonora Forenza Lista Tsipras from L'Al­tra Europa, in an im­pas­sioned speech, claimed that 'Salvini is a sign of racism that is grow­ing in the Euro­pean Union.'

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