NGOs operating migrant rescue boats must be regulated – PM

Muscat to meet Conte at next EU council

Joseph Muscat. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Joseph Muscat. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Charity NGOs operating migrant rescue boats in the Mediterranean had to be “regulated”, because their service was at times akin to advertising human trafficking, the Prime Minister said on Wednesday.

Joseph Muscat was commenting in the wake of the recent standoff with Italy involving 629 migrants on board a ship, the Aquarius, owned by a French NGO, SOS Méditerranée.

The incident put charity organisations under the spotlight following the controversial accusations by Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who said they were nothing more than “a taxi service” for migrants wanting to enter Europe illegally.

Commending the initiatives of NGOs running migrant rescue boats, Dr Muscat was critical of some of them, even though he did not mention any names.

“As the experiences of the past few days showed, you cannot have NGOs almost advertising themselves as not being attached to any mission, thus inviting whoever needs help [in crossing the Mediterranean] to come forward. That is not the NGOs’ role,” he said. “In such cases, that would be tantamount to favouring human trafficking.

“This small minority of NGOs needs to be regulated. Having said that, there cannot be any compromises with people’s lives at sea,” Dr Muscat insisted.

Asked about the forthcoming European Union summit scheduled for June 28 and 29, the Prime Minister poured cold water on the prospects of an agreement to overhaul the so-called Dublin Regulation on migration.

“I don’t think it is plausible, though not because of what has happened” he said. The reason, he added, was the “divide” between Eastern and Western Europe on migration policy.

“The best way to go about it is to wait for official declarations in the summits rather than relying on tweets or social media,” Dr Muscat remarked.

However, sources in Brussels indicated to this newspaper that some form of an agreement could still be possible, because it would not require unanimity but a qualified majority.

Dr Muscat confirmed he would meet Italian Prime Giuseppe Conte Minister at the next EU Council in Brussels. “Our intention is to have a good and normal relationship, as we always have had. We hope that what happened was just a blip,” he added.

However, he insisted Malta had adhered to international regulations, blaming Italy for not shouldering its obligations.

Read: MEPs lambast ‘xenophobic, populist Salvini’ after Aquarius incident

Dr Muscat noted that Malta was one of only two countries that accepted its fair share of migrants under the EU’s relocation mechanism, had the second-highest rate of asylum applications after Sweden and its policy was in line with the one being proposed by the European Commission. The Prime Minister was speaking to the press shortly after inaugurating the new premises of the call centre Centrecom at the Mosta Technopark.

Incorporated in 1989 as a joint venture between Cassar Aviation Services Pty Ltd of Australia and Air Malta, the company is now represented in Fiji, Jordan, New Zealand and Australia.