The increased number of illegal immigrants is putting extreme pressure on the accommodation capabilities as well as the social fabric of the Maltese islands, Foreign Minister Tonio Borg said this morning.

Speaking at a seminar hosted by MEUSAC and the Czech embassy on the Czech EU presidency priorities, Dr Borg insisted once more than immigration must remain high on the EU agenda.

“While appreciating the efforts by the previous French Presidency, it is essential that in the overall migration debate, the focus on illegal migration remains as clear as ever during the Czech Presidency. Legal migration is a positive factor but cannot be successful without effectively tackling illegal immigration. One must ensure that the thrust of past initiatives is maintained, while at the same time finding alternative solutions and innovative modalities to deal with the impact of illegal migration on countries of destination and transit.”

He said there should be a renewed emphasis on awareness campaigns in countries of origin focusing on public information and/or education campaigns on the risk of illegal migration, particularly on the dangers of falling into the hands of traffickers and smugglers.

“We also need to address the root causes of mass movements of people - mass poverty, conflict, famine and the proliferation of failed states, come to mind. Intensified efforts are required to combat the illegal activities of unscrupulous traffickers who exploit the plight of fellow human beings for their own gain. I believe greater pressure should be applied to ensure that governments in countries of origin live up to their responsibilities in this sphere.”

Referring to the Immigration Pact, he said that it was now important to ensure that the momentum built over the last months was maintained in 2009 aimed at implementing the key provisions of the Pact within the shortest possible timeframes. “Indeed, while appreciating the comprehensive nature of the Pact, a number of points can certainly be identified as priorities for Malta. These include the relocation of beneficiaries of protection, the establishment of a European Asylum Support Office, the effective return of illegal migrants through the conclusion of Readmission Agreements and effective border controls through the strengthening of FRONTEX,” the minister said.

The minister in his speech welcomed Czech plans to focus on European economic competitiveness, energy security and external relations. He said it was crucial that Malta intensified its relations with the Arab World.

On enlargement, Dr Borg said Malta backed efforts to speed up Croatia’s accession process and was also not averse to speeding up the progress in Turkey’s accession negotiations.

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