The Malta Independent 17 November 2018, Saturday

Irregular Migration: Interior ministers approve burden sharing pact

Malta Independent Friday, 26 September 2008, 00:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

European Union interior ministers yesterday approved the text on a migration and asylum pact proposed by the French presidency. The approval was given during a meeting held in the afternoon in Brussels.

The pact was shot down by both the Malta Labour Party, which accused the government of a surrender, and Alternattiva Demokratika, which said the agreement “is not enough”. The Office of the Prime Minister contradicted the Labour Party, and the Nationalist Party described the pact as important and welcomed it with satisfaction.

Apart from aiming to lay solid foundations for a common policy on migration and asylum, the pact includes the need to introduce a burden-sharing mechanism to reduce the difficulties faced by countries, such as Malta, who are experiencing pressure that is disproportionate to their size and resources.

The Department of Information said this part was included in the pact following Malta’s insistence. It is the first time that a proposal for the reallocation of irregular migrants was introduced in similar documents.

The pact will now be discussed and approved by the European Union leaders during a summit that will be held in Brussels next month. The meeting will be attended by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi.

The pact was approved after a number of delegations made their suggestions. The interventions were all positive and no one posed any opposition or doubts about the text as proposed, the DOI said.

The Maltese delegation was led by Interior Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici and included Malta’s permanent representative at the EU, Richard Cachia Caruana.

In his intervention, Dr Mifsud Bonnici said that the pact will serve as an important tool to direct the European Commission and member states to work better in matters related to migration and asylum.

We feel that this pact is comprehensive because it addresses pressures that countries such as Malta are facing because of specific and disproportionate factors, Dr Mifsud Bonnici said.

It is significant that through this pact, the EU is sending a clear message that it is united and is addressing a problem with determination. The EU knows which road it wants to take, and is reacting to the new realities that are being faced, he added.

Labour Party leader Joseph Muscat and Michael Falzon, the party spokesman for the interior and security, said the wording of the pact includes the following: “for those Member States which are faced with specific and disproportionate pressures on their national asylum systems” (there should be) “on a voluntary and co-ordinated basis, better relocation of beneficiaries of international protection from such Member States to others”, as confirmed by the DOI.

The MLP said that when considering the government’s pledge “to be firm”, the wording showed that only minor progress was made, which was not satisfactory for Malta. Giving its reasons why it was not happy with the pact, the MLP said the system created in the pact is voluntary, it did not oblige other EU countries to take part; the system would apply only to persons who were accepted as refugees, but the majority of irregular migrants landing at Malta are not considered as refugees, so are excluded from the pact; there was no indication of a date about when the mechanism would be brought into force, though this had been promised for long, or what resources would be allotted.

The MLP said it was a pity that Lawrence Gonzi and his government had surrendered at a time when they could have obtained a more concrete result for Malta at a time of national crisis, even when the Prime Minister knew he had the full support of the Labour Party on this.

The MLP urged the Prime Minister to review his position and make sure that the country was given facts, not futile words.

Alternattiva Demokratika’s chairperson, Prof. Albert Cassola, said the agreement is a first step in the right direction, “but it is still not enough”. Malta is part and parcel of the common external borders of the EU. “It is not a voluntary choice for Malta to be an external border but a permanent feature of geography of Malta and of the whole EU.”

The political work should continue so that the better relocation of beneficiaries of international protection from “border” countries like Malta which suffer from disproportionate pressures due to its location to other EU member states should be on a compulsory basis and not on a voluntary one, Prof. Cassola said.

PN Information director Frank Psaila said that for the first time a mechanism was to be created in the EU so that the problem of irregular migration would be shared justly. Under the agreement, EU member countries will be able to accept persons who would have come to Malta.

Welcoming the agreement “with satisfaction”, the PN said the pact meant that Malta and other countries on the periphery of Europe will not continue facing the problem of irregular migration by themselves.

Thanks to Malta’s insistence, it added, the agreement was reached unanimously by all member states. The Maltese government had stood firm and made it clear that if the pact did not include a declared commitment by all countries about burden sharing, Malta would vote against.

This pact follows the agreement with the US, which was taking refugees from Malta. The PN then expressed disappointment at the Labour Party’s statement and appealed to the MLP not to foment racist sentiments.

The MLP has not come out with one concrete proposal about the problem, the PN said. It was a pity the MLP was choosing to be partisan.

Countering the Labour Party statement, the Office of the Prime Minister said the MLP position showed that the MLP had not yet understood anything about how crucial the pact was for Malta, or about how the EU operated.

This was the first time that an EU document had brought in a burden sharing mechanism. The mechanism was voluntary because it was being introduced among free EU countries, not part of what was the Soviet Union.

Thirdly, the OPM said, this was a relocation process which has become part of the EU agenda, having the backing of 27 members who recognise this need. The system will apply for the majority of immigrants landing at Malta because each year the figures were rising of those given international protection rights, so much so that this year the proportion is expected to be more than 60 per cent. Apart from this, the OPM said, persons who did not get protection would still be sent back to their country of origin, and the EU was providing money and assistance for this to be done.

As for the coming into force of the mechanism, this would not be before it was discussed and approved by the European Council.

The government had surrendered nothing, the OPM said. It had managed to bring about changes to the immigration and asylum pact, by introducing into the text as part of the European agenda the building of a programme for member states to take persons considered as refugees.

The pact, the OPM added, is a historic result that was so important that no MLP declaration would affect it, or the Maltese government’s merit in achieving the arrangement.

Giving the full version of the wording in the pact quoted by the MLP, the OPM said the text in English said: For those Member States which are faced with specific and disproportionate pressures on their national asylum systems, due in particular to their geographical or demographic situation, solidarity shall also aim to promote, on a voluntary and coordinated basis, better reallocation of beneficiaries of international protection from such Member States to others, while ensuring that asylum systems are not abused. In accordance with those principles, the Commission, in consultation with the UNHCR where appropriate, will facilitate such voluntary and coordinated reallocation. Specific funding under existing EU financial instruments should be provided for this reallocation, in accordance with budgetary procedures

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