The Malta Independent 18 November 2018, Sunday

Why Salvini is wrong, by Joseph Muscat

Noel Grima Sunday, 26 August 2018, 11:26 Last update: about 4 months ago
Without mentioning his name once, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat devoted most of his Sunday interview on One Radio to Italian Minister of the Interior and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini.
The interview which was broadcast this morning seems to have been recorded at an earlier time and thus did not include any reference to the end of the saga of the Eritrean migrants who are now to be shared by Italian bishops, Albania and Ireland.
Dr Muscat said that the issue is a very complex one since there are far more cases of migrants than are made known by the media.
Malta has put in much work in this regard especially during the EU Presidency. In fact the number of migrants crossing over from Libya has fallen by 80%. Every day there is a new case. Not all cases become Malta's responsibility, Dr Muscat said. A case in point is the Diciotti. It moved from the Libyan waters to an area that falls under the responsibility of Malta. But Malta has no power to order the ship to stop or to go to this port or that. 
The people on the Diciotti wanted to go to Italy and besides, the Diciotti is a military ship and so Malta has no power over it.
The lesson to be drawn from this episode is that a solution cannot be found because of the size of a country nor because someone tweets but by persuasion.
Malta used persuasion and got positive results. Malta found and obtained European solidarity even when the migrants in question did not fall under its responsibility.
Dr Muscat said any decision he took was subjected to people with opposite opinions but he cannot allow people to drown and Malta also has legal obligations with regards to these people.
So Malta got these people in. In the case of the Aquarius, as well as in the case of the Lifeline, for the first time ever there were discussions at European levels and the sharing of migrants. This positive result was obtained through persuasion, whereas those who use tweets did not get such results.
Malta does not accept that NGO ships disregard the laws and regulations and take matters into their hands. For one thing, the EU is subsidising the training of the Libyan coastguards and it is not right that the NGO ships disregard the legitimate orders by the Libyan coastguards and do whatever they feel like doing.
On Tuesday, he is going to welcome the Czech Prime Minister Babis who holds diametrically opposite views on tackling migration. He is coming here so as to see how Malta is tackling the issue. Malta prefers to use persuasion.
Dr Muscat also referred to the meeting held in Brussels on Friday and said that while he cannot divulge what was said he can only hint that Malta was called a role model in its treatment of migrants.
The situation in Malta is different from that of landlocked countries. Malta is surrounded by the sea and it carries responsibility with regards to people at sea.
Australia is being mentioned (by Salvini) as a role model. But there are very important differences. The migrants who try and enter Australia come from countries at war while in Malta's case they come from countries like Nigeria or Bangla Desh which are not at war. 
More importantly, Australia has reached an agreement with Papua New Guinea to send all would-be migrants to islands in PNG. Europe has tried to do this but has not succeeded because the people of Egypt and Tunisia have not accepted the EU offer especially when this is not accompanied by trade inducements.
Dr Muscat was also asked about other matters. He spoke first about the adoption grant. This government has changed matters with regards to IVF: there was much controversy when this was passing through Parliament but now things seem to have quietened down. 
IVF implies hardship on couples especially on women. Some who have tried IVF lose heart and turn to adoption. But adoption too is a difficult process and also costly, which is why the government is offering a €10,000 grant.
The President of the Republic also tries to get agreements from the countries she visits to help the processing of adoption procedures. The government does what it can so as to improve the lot of families.
Dr Muscat was also asked about the government commitment to introduce free bussing for children of church and private schools.  The situation in this regard is quite complex because the church and private schools have very different programmes from those of the state schools and in some cases it is the parents who agree with the operators and not the school. Besides, these buses pick up students from door to door rather than from a central point.
So for this coming year, the government has accepted to let things remain as they are and to [pay the same fees on behalf of the parents with a 5% increase. It is now expecting replies from the operators.
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