Malta has accepted taking its fair share of migrants relocated from Italy and Greece under emergency plans rolled out by the European Commission, according to the Home Affairs Minister.

Carmelo Abela said Malta would show solidarity, in line with its long-held belief that member states should be collectively responsible for the burden placed on frontier states by immigration.

“In the moment of truth, we cannot retract what we have always insisted upon,” Mr Abela said.

The government is expected to face a backlash over the proposals, which fly in the face of expectations by the public that migrants from Malta will be redistributed to other EU countries.

“The 145 migrants per year Malta is expected to accept from Italy and Greece pale into insignificance when compared to the far superior numbers Malta had to shoulder in the past on its own,” Mr Abela said.

In the moment of truth, we cannot retract what we have always insisted upon

Malta was temporarily excluded from the emergency mechanism because arrivals dropped dramatically in the past two years, compared to Italy and Greece, where thousands of desperate individuals sought refuge.

According to proposals unveiled yesterday by European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, Malta is set to take in 292 migrants from Italy and Greece over two years.

The Commission wants to initiate an emergency mechanism enshrined in the EU treaty to alleviate the burden Italy and Greece have been shouldering as a result of a sudden influx of migrants from crisis-hit countries like Syria and Libya.

Mr Avramopoulos said Malta would also benefit from the same emergency mechanism if it encountered a similar influx. The proposal targets 40,000 migrants, who will be arriving in the two Mediterranean countries after the emergency mechanism kicks in and applies to Syrian and Eritrean asylum seekers. The amount is equivalent to 40 per cent of arrivals in Italy and Greece last year.

Mr Abela said there was no room for elation but the proposals were a positive step forward. He welcomed Mr Avramopoulos’s statement that, for many years, Malta had been left to fend for itself with no solidarity from member states. He said the ministry’s technical people would be analysing the Commission’s proposals in detail to ensure the numbers were correct.

‘Enough votes to pass proposal’

The number of migrants each member state is expected to receive is based on the country’s GDP, population, unemployment rate, migrant arrivals and other criteria.

The Commission is also proposing a distinct resettlement programme for 20,000 asylum seekers from outside the EU.

The proposals will have to be approved by the European Council in June and will require a qualified majority to pass.

Asked whether he was confident member states would support the Commission’s proposal, Mr Abela said that, from his assessment, it seems there are enough votes to see the proposal through.

On the proposed EU military operation to attack the people smuggler networks, Mr Abela said military planners are hammering out operational details. The planners include two officers from the Armed Forces of Malta.

With the EU insisting on a UN mandate to be able to enter Libyan waters to board, search and possibly destroy boats used for smuggling, Mr Abela said he had no information as to when the UN Security Council would vote on a resolution.

Reacting to the Commission’s proposals, the Nationalist Party said it would have preferred that Malta, with its very specific and unique circumstances, had also been included with Greece and Italy.

“Nonetheless, it is an acknowledgement that this is a European challenge that deserves a European response by every member State acting in solidarity. It is a first step and will be followed by a permanent system expected to be proposed later in the year,” the PN said.

The Opposition also noted the Commission’s commitment that, should Malta experience a sudden influx of migrants, the relocation system would also apply to the island.

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