The Malta Independent 23 June 2018, Saturday

Watch: NGOs working in the Mediterranean need greater regulation - Muscat

Julian Bonnici Wednesday, 13 June 2018, 12:29 Last update: about 10 days ago

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat today called for greater regulation of NGOs who work to save migrants in search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.

The Aquarius, the rescue ship in the middle of an international dispute after rescuing 629 migrants within Libyan territorial waters, belongs to NGO Doctor's Without Borders (MSF) and the SOS Mediterraneee charity. Both Malta and Italy refused it permission to land, with Spain deciding to take in the migrants, who are now on their way to Valencia.

"The role of NGOs is important and they perform well, especially when intervening when there is a need. However, you cannot have NGOs, as we have seen, advertising that because they are not engaged in any specific mission, anyone who needs help can call them. Ultimately, it is the lives of those out at sea are the most important," Muscat told The Malta Independent when facing questions from the press.

"We are spending millions of EU taxpayers' money on the Libyan coast guard for improved training and equipment so they can better manage the situation. If they are not equipped enough, we need to make sure they are."

Muscat was asked whether the Mediterranean could potentially face a number of diplomatic crises throughout the summer, given Italy's apparent position on the issue and the number of migrants who will attempt to cross the Mediterranean during the season.

He stressed that the number of crossings in the Mediterranean has actually decreased, referencing UNHCR figures which show that boat arrivals have dropped by 70%.

"It is easy to bash the EU, but they have done well. The measures taken, through the Valletta summit, in Chad and Niger are leaving a positive effect.

"There will be problems, there will be issues, and the EU Council will not find a magic solution, but through discussions, we may at least reach a common understanding in following regulations."

"The criticism taking place is not directed at Malta," he continued. "They agree with our position, we followed all international regulations."

"This all happened because Italy did not follow the rules. We would also like to remind people that Malta has always followed regulations. Malta is one of the few countries who took the full quotas from Italy and Greece, and we have the second highest rate of asylum applications."

On Spain's intervention, while thankful, Muscat said that "we cannot rely on gestures, there needs to be a more organised system."

"If everyone follows the rules, we will all be in a better position."

Changes to Dublin Regulations are 'not plausible'

The PM also said that any potential changes to the Dublin Regulation were implausible, but stressed it was not due to rising tensions between Italy, France, and Malta, when asked about the upcoming discussions.

"The divided has been mostly between east and west; and the way we envisage migration and migration policy," Muscat said.

He also noted that the shift in policy by the Italian government needed to be evaluated both locally and on EU level.

"There is still a draft paper between Mediterranean countries in this regard. Officially this has not changed, but in real terms, we have seen a shift," Muscat said explaining that it was important to wait for official summits to discuss these issues, rather than relying on comments made on social media.

Muscat will be meeting his Italian counterpart at the EU Council meeting between 28 and 29 June.

"Our intention is to maintain our good relationship with the Italian government. We hope what has happened is just a blip."

 


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