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‘Malta has been ready for a sudden migrant influx for years’

Sources say the centres in Ħal Far and Safi appear neglected

  • Video/Pix via Reuters

Malta had been ready for a sudden migration influx for years, the Home Affairs Ministry said on Monday.

A spokeswoman told the Times of Malta the tension between Malta and Italy over migration policy did not really impact the national authorities, because “they have been prepared for the past months and years, since an influx of migrants could have taken place at any time”.

The spokeswoman was speaking shortly after the Spanish government stepped in to receive a boat loaded with more than 600 migrants after both Malta and Italy refused to accept them.

Over the weekend, the ship was headed towards Italy, but Home Affairs Minister Matteo Salvini, head of the far-right League party, which vowed to curb the influx of migrants from Africa, blocked the vessel and said it should sail to Malta instead.

The Maltese government insisted, however, that it had nothing to do with the rescue mission, which, it said, was overseen by the Italian authorities.

The sharp decline in the number of arrivals by sea over the last few years has resulted in a significant downsizing of the infrastructure to cater for them

The United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, appealed on Monday to the governments and officials involved in the dispute to allow the immediate disembarkation of the migrants.

Nobody home... Safi barracks remains empty - for now. Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaNobody home... Safi barracks remains empty - for now. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Sources on the migration scene expressed a sense of uncertainty on how Malta would handle a sudden influx of migrants. The sharp decline in the number of arrivals by sea over the last few years has resulted in a significant downsizing of the infrastructure to cater for such an eventuality, they said.

One source who enjoys access to the open centres in Ħal Far and Safi said it appeared as though the sites had been neglected.

Integra Foundation’s Maria Pisani said those involved in the sector had known for a long time that the situation was fragile and that the mode of arrival could change very quickly.

“For that reason, the situation cannot and must not be framed as a crisis. Over the years, Malta has had ample time and opportunity to build on the knowledge, expertise, skills and infrastructure to deal with boat arrivals,” Dr Pisani said.

Official statistics show that the number of asylum applications in Malta have remained fairly stable through the years, despite a drastic cut in boat arrivals. About 1,600 asylum applications are filed in Malta every year, despite boat arrivals having dropped from about 2,000 annually to just 23 last year.

Meanwhile, representatives of Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Malta met in Rome on Monday at the invitation of the International Commission on Missing Persons to discuss ways to account for migrants who have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean.

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