Meeting between Efus Executive Committee and Maltese political leaders on the question of migrants

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Efus’ Executive Committee was held on 7, 8 and 9 March 2012 inHaz-Zebbug, upon invitation of this Maltese city, which is member of the Executive Committee, in order to review the situation of illegal migrants and the help Malta could receive from European institutions. Following this visit, the Executive Committee adopted a resolution calling the European Union and its Member States to share the responsibility of welcoming migrants and helping them to integrate.

The smallest EU Member State with 413,000 inhabitants, Malta is also the most southern. This small Mediterranean island is situated on a line between Tripoli, in Libya, and Sicily. The problem of immigration is particularly difficult for this country because of its size and geographical situation.

Since it joined the EU in 2004, Malta has become an entry point for people who flee by sea dire economic and political situations in their countries of origin, mostly in the Middle East and Africa. They aim to enter countries of the Schengen area, on continental Europe, mainly through Italy.

Obviously, it is difficult to gauge precisely the flow of illegal migrants, but according to The Times of Malta, the main daily newspaper of the country, 256 illegal immigrants arrived by sea in May 2012. The record year was 2008 with total arrivals at 2,775 people, aboard 84 boats. Between January and June 2011, Malta received 1,530 immigrants.

According to Maltese authorities, there are more refugees on the island -some 4,000- than the total number of staff of the national armed forces, police and health services. Also, Malta has the highest ratio in the world of asylum seekers per inhabitant, according to The Times of Malta.

The situation is particularly difficult for Maltese authorities because they have to deal with it without external help. For obvious humanitarian reasons, they have to assist refugees who disembark on Malta after a long and perilous trip, in poor health and without documentation. This means Malta has the responsibility to launch the administrative procedure that will grant them the right to enter the European Union, or have them repatriated.

Maltese authorities have been alerting the EU for several years, arguing that the burden of illegal immigration should be shared equally among Member States. The country’s two main political parties, the Nationalist Party (centre-right, in power), and the Malta Labour Party (left) have agreed on a common position on this issue.

The Mayor of Haz-Zebbug, Alfred Grixiti, invited members of Efus’ Executive Committee to visit the island and meet political leaders to discuss this situation. A visit to a detention centre was also organised (see our article here).

The Executive Committee met with Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, Minister for Home and Parliamentary Affairs, Joseph Muscat, Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives, Michael Falzon, one of the leading figures of the Labour Party, specialised in security and immigration matters, Joe Debono Grech, MP and Representative of Malta at the European Council, and Fabrizio Ellul, Spokesman for the Maltese Representation at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Malta.

All expressed similar views, and called Europe to assume equitatively the responsilibity of dealing with the inflows of migrants. Here are excerpts of their declarations:

– “Malta deals with immigration in a humane and pragmatic way. But the situation is urgent: 98% of migrants who arrive here request asylum, and 2% are children. European countries should do more for these people, and follow the example of Germany who has received 150 families.” (Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici)

– “Malta is a small island, and immigrants represent already 1% of its population. Europe should receive more immigrants. So far, the United States have let in more immigrants from Malta than the whole of Europe.” (Joseph Muscat)

– “The economy of Malta is fragile, and the help it provides to migrants is very costly. All refugees receive free health assistance, whatever treatment they need. Furthermore, there are tensions between migrants and the local population, but also among migrants, for instance between sunnis and shiites, and between African tribes.” (Joe Debono Grech)

– “The fact that all new migrants are sent to a detention centre, as per the Maltese regulation, up until their legal situation is clarified either by receiving asylum or by repatriation, poses a real humanitarian problem. There have been cases of suicide even though authorities deal with this situation as humanely as possible.” (Fabrizio Ellul).

The President of Efus Guillherme Pinto said that members of the Executive Committee all agreed on two things: migrants are not offenders and do not pose, by their sole presence, a security problem in cities, and EU institutions and Members States must improve the way they deal with immigration. “It is necessary to increase the help towards migrants’ countries of origin, and to improve their conditions in the countries where they arrive,” he said. He added that the question of refugees and migrants would be addressed during Efus international conference “Security, Democracy and Cities: The Future of Prevention”, which will take place on 12, 13 and 14 December2012 inAubervilliers and Saint-Denis.