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‘It Is in our interest for Libya to sign Geneva Convention’

 - Wednesday, 18 April 2012, 00:00 , by Francesca Vella

It is in Malta’s interest for Libya to become a signatory of the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees, Foreign Affairs Minister Tonio Borg said yesterday.

Addressing a news conference about the work carried out by his ministry over the last year, Dr Borg referred to the reduction in migration from North Africa following the €5 billion agreement between Italy and the Gaddafi regime.

Asked whether he thought Libya should sign the 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees, he replied in the affirmative, saying that the North African country would be able to process asylum applications. He said, however, that Libya needed to have a practical interest to sign the convention and needs help from the EU in this regard.

The convention is the key legal document in defining who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of states.

Meanwhile, Dr Borg said his ministry was deeply involved in the events that took place in North Africa last year, particularly in Libya. He said he was proud of the professional and humane manner with which Malta dealt with the crisis. The country provided assistance to Maltese people who were in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya at the time, as well as to thousands of foreigners.

During the Libya crisis in particular, Malta served as a humanitarian hub, providing assistance to more than 20,000 people from 100 countries, and bringing over Libyan patients for treatment.

“We didn’t expose ourselves to unnecessary risks. Without participating in any military operations, we won the respect of several countries,” he said, going on to mention visits by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and the Chinese foreign minister.

Dr Borg spoke about his ministry’s sustained commitment to extend diplomatic contacts around the world, saying that such contacts translate into employment opportunities in Malta, and help Maltese entrepreneurs to invest overseas.

He said Maltese embassies and consulates registered a record year in terms of the number of contacts made. They received about 17,000 requests in total, of which 1,600 were commercial contacts. By means of their work, Maltese embassies and consulates contributed to various economic sectors, including financial services and education, particularly English language teaching.

The minister went on to talk about the memorandum of understanding between the ministry and Malta Enterprise, by means of which Maltese representatives abroad will be appointed to focus particularly on trade and investment on a regional basis.

The number of diplomatic representations has increased over the last four years, said Dr Borg, mentioning in particular the new embassy in Poland and consulates in India and Libya. There are also plans to open an embassy in Kuwait, following the oil-rich country’s decision to open an embassy in Malta.

Over the last years, Malta managed to acquire the right to host the European Asylum Support Office, said the minister, noting that that project translated into 100 employment opportunities.

Talking about the various agreements signed with other countries, Dr Borg said more than 170 agreements were signed between 2008 and 2012. These include 26 related to double taxation avoidance, six visa waiver agreements, another six related to the health sector, nine on culture, science and technology, as well as agreements with 11 countries related to the cooperation in the fight against organised crime.

In a bid to increase the number of employment opportunities, the government organised two events for honorary consuls around the world over the last few years. Dr Borg said they can be considered to be trade ambassadors because they can create huge opportunities thanks to their contacts.

Maltese ambassadors are also brought together for an annual event, which serves as a means of strengthening the government’s relations with them in the country’s best interest.

Over the last few years, the ministry, together with Malta Enterprise, organised trips for commercial delegations to a number of countries including Portugal, Poland, Ukraine and countries in the Arabian Gulf.

Dr Borg also referred to the Overseas Development Aid, administered by the ministry. Financial assistance from the ODA fund is granted to Maltese organisations or individuals undertaking projects in Third World Countries.

Meanwhile, George Vella, the Labour Party’s main spokesman for foreign affairs, said the ministry’s report fails to address various important aspects that require explanation from the government’s side.

Among other things, Dr Vella asked why nothing was mentioned about the discussions on the continental shelf. He noted that in a March 2010 communication, the Italian government said that part of what Malta considers to be its own continental shelf is actually Italy’s.

The Maltese government didn’t deny this or give any form of explanation, said Dr Vella, going on to mention issues such as the Partnership for Peace membership, the 5+5 forum, the Union for the Mediterranean, and Malta’s relations with Libya.

The PL’s European affairs spokesman, Luciano Busuttil, on his part, asked about the amendments to the European Union Act, the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement and preparations for 2017, when Malta takes over the EU presidency.

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