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Questions over readiness for potential migrant influx

Malta could face brunt of change in Italy policy shift

A group of migrants making the dangerous Mediterranean crossing on a rubber dinghy. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

A group of migrants making the dangerous Mediterranean crossing on a rubber dinghy. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

A leading human rights NGO has questioned whether the authorities would be prepared to potentially receive a sudden influx of migrants.

This week, former foreign minister George Vella warned that Malta could face the brunt of what appeared to be Italy’s policy shift on migrant rescues in the central Mediterranean.

On Monday, a standoff between Maltese and Italian authorities saw a ship carrying three migrants left stranded in international waters for 48 hours after both countries refused it entry.

An estimated 600,000 migrants have reached Italy by sea from North Africa since 2014, and immigration has become a key electoral issue in Italy ahead of an election next spring.

Replying to questions by this paper, Neil Falzon, director of the NGO Aditus, said if Malta were to face an influx of migrants, problems would likely be encountered at most stages of the process.

Dr Falzon said if a large boat with refugees were to reach Malta next week, the initial reception centre would not be able to handle the volume of people within the required time-frames, and space might be an issue.

Dr Falzon said Aditus was quite sure the levels of racism and hate speech would once again hit the roof, as these issues were never adequately tackled by government

He said that delays would probably also be seen at the Office of the Refugee Commissioner in registering applicants, issuing the necessary documentations, and commencing the asylum interviews.

Vulnerable persons, including children and victims of torture or violence, might get lost in the crowds and would run the risk of not being identified, Dr Falzon warned.

This would mean that they might not gain access to the special support required.

On a wider level, Dr Falzon said Aditus was quite sure the levels of racism and hate speech would once again hit the roof, as these issues were never adequately tackled by government.

The human rights NGO had never been invited to discuss how it could contribute its own resources and expertise in these eventualities, he said.

“We hope there is a plan to receive people arriving within manageable numbers, as also to deal with situations of larger-scale movements.”

“Ultimately the success of these plans hinges on how human dignity can be secured, whilst simultaneously managing such logistical challenges,” Dr Falzon said.

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