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Malta and Italy to work together over migrants

Agreement between countries expected to be signed today

The commission aims to establish which country is responsible for migrants rescued at sea. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

The commission aims to establish which country is responsible for migrants rescued at sea. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

A commission expected to be set up today will seek a solution to the long-standing disputes between Malta and Italy over the rescue of migrants at sea.

Both sides are ready to understand, listen and explore ways forward

An agreement, meant to be signed today between Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Giulio Terzi and his counterpart, Deputy Prime Minister Tonio Borg, will see the setting up of a mixed commission based on the same lines Malta has with Tunisia and Libya, sources said.

The commission will be tasked with holding high-level technical discussions over pending issues between the two countries, chiefly the rescue of migrants in distress and oil exploration, which have eluded solutions for years.

The technical talks will bring military teams from both countries around the table to chart a working plan of who should take action when vessels are in distress in specific areas at sea and where survivors should be taken after rescue.

Malta has long argued that rescued migrants should go to the closest safe port, in line with international law.

It stressed that it was only required to “coordinate” rescue operation in its search and rescue area – which stretches roughly from Tunisia to Greece – and not carry out the rescue itself.

However, the Italian side has accused Malta of reneging on its responsibilities and even suggested the Government give up part of the rescue area; a significant source of revenue for the country.

The result has been a series of high-profile diplomatic disputes over the years, which at times left migrants stranded on stricken vessels while Rome and Valletta argued over who was responsible for their rescue.

In one such stand-off in 2009, the European Commission stepped in to mediate between then Italian and Maltese home affairs ministers, Roberto Maroni and Carm Mifsud Bonnici.

Malta-Italy agreement

Writing in The Times today (see back page), Mr Terzi said Italy and Malta had a responsibility to explore ways of doing more to meet the challenges that faced both countries.

“Our discussions will be focused on bilateral issues, namely those resulting from the absence of agreed boundaries between us, such as rescue at sea or the continental slope,” he writes in his article.

“We have no solutions yet. Those that were put on the table up to now have led us nowhere. However, both sides are ready to understand, listen and together explore ways forward”.

The other sticking point, oil exploration, has been an area of disagreement for decades with Malta claiming offshore drilling rights in areas the Italians claim are their own.

Malta faces similar disputes with Tunisia and Libya.

• Eighty migrants were expected in at Haywharf on an AFM patrol boat last night after their dinghy started taking in water 16 miles south of Malta.

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