Unacceptable for NGO vessels to race the Libyan coastguard to pick up migrants - PM
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Unacceptable for NGO vessels to race the Libyan coastguard to pick up migrants - PM

Rules have to be observed by everyone, Joseph Muscat tells parliament

Migrants wave after being allowed to disembark in Malta last week.

Migrants wave after being allowed to disembark in Malta last week.

It was unacceptable that some NGO rescue vessels issued their coordinates on social media such that traffickers’ boats immediately homed in to them, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told Parliament on Monday.

It was also unacceptable that NGO boats raced to pick up migrants who were not in distress within Libyan waters when the Libya coastguard was preparing to pick them up itself.

Dr Muscat was replying to questions after giving a statement on the recent controversy involving 49 migrants picked up by NGOs and eventually disembarked in Malta.

The prime minister said the Libyan coastguard, financed and trained mostly by the European Union, was doing good work. According to the UNHCR, it picked up 14,000 people in the past 14 months.

The coast guard, he stressed, should be allowed to work. He had no problem with NGOs helping to rescue persons in distress, supplementing the work of the armed forces. But what he was insisting upon was that everyone should follow the rules.

There had been instances of interceptions by NGO rescue vessels of persons not necessarily in distress which the Libyan coastguard was itself preparing to pick up.

Situations then developed where the migrants did not want to return to Libya, and Italy closed its own ports because the rules were not observed, with the ships then coming to Malta.

“There are rules for everyone and we cannot have a race in Libyan waters. Rules have to be observed,” Dr Muscat said.

In his statement, Dr Muscat underlined how in the recent crisis Malta had done its duty even though it was not involved in the rescue, and the closest harbours were in Libya and Italy.

Dr Muscat said it was obvious that when people were in distress, those closest to them should rescue them, but one could not have a situation were an NGO vessel which was not involved in any rescue operation gave its coordinates on social media and then one saw the people traffickers homing in on it.

Some conspiracy theorists would argue that this was all done in agreement. He did not agree, but it was a fact that everyone used social media and as soon as the traffickers in Libya learnt of a rescue boat’s location, they targeted it. This was unacceptable.

“This is an uncomfortable truth. We need proper governance for countries as well as NGOs,” Dr Muscat said.

He also insisted that Malta wanted to make the point that it would not allow itself to become ‘the new Lampedusa’ which migrants aimed for.

The prime minister also referred to his talks with the Libyan prime minister in Valletta last week, saying they had been very constructive.

He said he had stressed the point that ‘drastic improvement’ was needed in the migration centres in Libya.

Libya needs to step up human rights and conditions in the detention centres

“Libya needs to step up human rights and conditions in the detention centres,” Dr Muscat said.

With regard to bilateral relations, he said Malta’s embassy in Tripoli would be opened in a new building as soon as it was safe to do so.

He said it was not feasible to continue to house the embassy in the current government-owned building, because of security concerns.

However, an alternative building had been identified to serve, at least, as a temporary embassy.

He observed that in the past the government had already set a date for the embassy’s reopening, but it was thwarted on the very day the decision was taken because of a major blast in the Libyan capital

He said that Air Malta and the Tourism Ministry were also considering a reopening of Air Malta’s service between Tripoli and Malta, but again, this depended on security arrangements and other considerations, such as insurance.

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