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Malta refuses to host any fleeing Eritreans, Somalis and Ethiopians

In November, there were 79 migrants in detention while 2,224 were living in open centres and 1,400 were in the community. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

In November, there were 79 migrants in detention while 2,224 were living in open centres and 1,400 were in the community. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Malta has no intention of hosting any of the Eritreans, Somalis and Ethiopians who fled Libya to the borders with Egypt and Tunisia, according to Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi.

“At this stage, I think we are already carrying a much bigger burden than we can handle in terms of refugees and asylum seekers and so we won’t be making any offers,” he said, reacting to the European Commission’s initiative to ask member states to resettle hundreds of the displaced Africans.

“We need the EU to take some of our refugees and not the other way round,” Dr Gonzi said when asked about Malta’s position on the Commission’s initiative.

Since the violence broke out in Libya, Malta received 37 requests for asylum, including from 14 Eritreans who arrived on a cargo boat after apparently fleeing from Libya. The government has refused to say how many of the 37 left from Libya.

The number of immigrants reaching Malta over the past 18 months dropped drastically after Italy had reached a controversial agreement with Libya to immediately turn back migrants rescued at sea.

In November, figures released in Parliament showed there were 79 migrants in detention and 2,224 were living in open centres and 1,400 in the community.

Earlier this month, about 100 members of the Eritrean community in Malta held a demonstration in Valletta calling on the island and the international community to help evacuate asylum seekers stranded in Libya.

They said the Eritreans could not return to their country because they would be prosecuted and as they were not part of the international evacuation effort, they were stranded without protection in Libya. Some were in danger of being shot, being mistaken for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s mercenaries.

The Jesuit Refugee Service too had appealed to the EU and the international community to take immediate and concrete action to provide resettlement opportunities for some the Eritrean asylum seekers stranded in Libya.

These asylum seekers had made a desperate appeal for help to the Catholic Church in Tripoli and to Bishop Giovanni Martinelli, Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli.

At the time, Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici too had been non-committal about concrete action when asked about the requests made by Eritrean community in Malta to help evacuate those stranded in Tripoli. He had said the government would support any action requested by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, which was best placed to assess the situation on the ground.

Meanwhile, Dr Gonzi yesterday expressed solidarity with Maltese workers in Libya who he said were in a “confused state over their future”, adding the government would be doing its utmost to help and find alternative employment for those who would lose their jobs.

During the summit, EU leaders agreed on new conclusions over the Libyan conflict, reiterating the need for Col Gaddafi to immediately step down. They pledged their help to ensure “the Libyan people reach their aspirations” in the shortest possible time

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