The Malta Independent 23 February 2019, Saturday

Malta-Italy migration 'secret deal' resurfaces in the international media

Kevin Schembri Orland Saturday, 9 April 2016, 09:29 Last update: about 4 years ago

The alleged ‘secret deal’ where Malta is supposed to have given up oil exploration areas in return for Italy taking in most rescued migrants in the Mediterranean will not go away and has been picked up by international media again, despite the European Commission saying that it had not found any evidence of such a situation.

The latest publications to pick up the story are Oilprice.com and the Business Insider, both of which published an identical article on the matter. The issue came to light following a parliamentary question asked by Italian MEP Elisabetta Gardini.

The European Commission responded that it is not aware of such a deal, nor is it aware of any ‘inactivity’ by the Armed Forces of Malta in terms of responding to SAR duties.  “The Commission is not aware of any bilateral agreement between the Maltese and Italian authorities concerning Search and Rescue (SAR) operations in the Mediterranean Sea. However, the Commission notes that the operational area of Joint Operation (JO) Triton hosted by Italy, also with the participation of the Maltese assets, covers a large part of the Maltese SAR area defined in accordance with the 1979 International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue. The disembarkation rules for migrants intercepted/rescued during the OJ Triton are set out in the Operational Plan agreed by Frontex, Italy as a host Member State and the other participating Member States in accordance with Article 3a (1)(i) of the Frontex Regulation. The participating units are authorised by Italy to disembark in principle in its territory all persons intercepted in its territorial sea as well as in the entire operational area. It should also be noted that most of the SAR cases occur outside of the pre-defined operational area, largely within the Libyan SAR area”.

The Commission also said that it is not aware of any alleged ‘inactivity’ of the Maltese navy. “All the assets participating in OJ Triton, including assets of the Armed Forces of Malta, should immediately transmit all information on detected boats in distress to the competent Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC) based in Rome, put themselves at the disposal of the MRCC and follow its instructions, including on the place of disembarkation”.

The articles published by Oilprice.com and Businessinsider state that the commission being “not aware” certainly does not “put this issue to rest”.

While the Maltese government has denied the existence of such a deal, Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela originally said that there was an informal agreement between the two countries, later changing tune and corrected himself, saying there was “close collaboration”.

Oilprice.com said: “since 2015, out of the 142,000 people who fled their homes bound for Europe, leaving from the North-African coast, only around a 100 arrived in Malta. It’s an odd situation during this heightened refugee crisis,” Oilprice.com reports, while stating that Malta is the EU member state closest to the Libyan coast.

“In 2013, Maltese officials registered 2,008 arrivals. During the same period, Italy accepted some 150,000 refugees. The argument that there was no deal would suggest that refugees simply have no desire to try for Malta,” the article read.

 

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