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Europe ‘needs non-EU migrants’

Derek Lutterbek, deputy director of the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Derek Lutterbek, deputy director of the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

The EU needs migrants from outside Europe to balance out its ageing population and maintain welfare services, according to the deputy director of the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies.

Derek Lutterbek said that, although irregular migration in the Mediterranean was perceived as a threat to the EU, the phenomenon was actually economically beneficial.

“Not too long ago – some 40 years ago – the Mediterranean was perceived as a bridge to migration.

“The guest-worker system saw large-scale migration from southern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

“Europe’s economic recovery after World War II would not have been possible without this migration,” Dr Lutterbek said yesterday when addressing a debate on irregular migration in the Mediterranean Sea.

The debate was organised by Jef Malta, which forms part of the international organisation Young European Federalists that works for a more inclusive, economically-strong and democratic Europe.

Its local president, Christopher Scicluna, opened the debate noting that, according to recent Eurobarometer figures, 63 per cent of the Maltese were concerned about irregular migration.

Dr Lutterbek dismissed the idea that the EU was facing an invasion by boat people from the south. Irregular migration by boat across the Mediterranean was a marginal phenomenon.

The largest number of irregular migrants in Europe consisted of people who entered legally and became “visa overstayers” while boat migration accounted for five to 10 per cent of irregular migration in the EU.

“There is a need for immigration in the EU because of the demographic decline. European populations are shrinking rapidly. This creates huge pressures on welfare systems and social benefits will no longer be sustainable,” he said, adding that legal migration had to become simpler.

“It will come to a point where we will need migrants from outside the EU to balance out the decline in population.”

The debate, held in the University’s common room, focused mainly on the government’s efforts to share the burden of migration, integration and the EU’s support.

Labour MEP candidate Clint Camilleri insisted irregular migration was an EU problem, which could not be absorbed by Malta on its own. Malta had the largest number of asylum applications when compared to its population, he said.

Fellow candidate Lino Bianco noted that behind the numbers there was “a contemporary human tragedy”. Statistics had to be addressed but irregular migration was also a human dignity issue.

“Africa is a rich continent raped by Europe. No one leaves their country if there aren’t any problems, so although statistics need to be considered we should also look at where these people are coming from,” he said, adding that there was a criminal ring behind irregular migration.

At the same time, however, Malta could not allow anyone to ride roughshod over it, and its EU representatives had to unite.

Nationalist MEP candidate Kevin Plumpton said that while Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had been vociferous against bailing out Greece, Labour now expected the EU to show solidarity.

“We cannot seek the EU’s help only when we need it,” he said.

Africa is a rich continent raped by Europe. No one leaves their country if there aren’t any problems

Raymond Bugeja, another Nationalist MEP candidate, reacted to comments by the audience that people were angry at irregular migration. “Let’s not fear immigration. Let’s show solidarity with the EU and vice versa because this is a human issue.”

Another Nationalist candidate who was not on the panel, Helga Ellul, suggested creating opportunities within Africa so people would not have to leave the country, just like the Maltese who left the island to find opportunities abroad.

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