The Malta Independent 16 October 2019, Wednesday

Migration summit: What Malta and Italy expect

Wednesday, 22 April 2015, 08:06 Last update: about 5 years ago

Malta has witnessed more than its fair share of deaths at sea as a result of hundreds of migrants being packed onto tiny boats and dinghies which are sent across the Mediterranean. If we were truly honest, we would have to admit that it became such a regular occurrence that we might have even become desensitized to the news that people had died.

But then something shifted. The Lampedusa tragedy shocked all decent people in Mlata to the core. Over 400 people lost their lives.  The rest of Europe was also desensitized to the problem, not experiencing the weekly deaths that Malta and Italy witness  every week in Summer. It took the tragic loss of life over the past weekend to shock the EU into action.

Let us be clear, the EU, up to now, has not only failed its Southern members, but it has also failed humanity. On a political level, the EU has stood by and watched as thousands of people have drowned in our seas year after year.

Malta and Italy expect concrete action to be agreed on at this Thursday’s extraordinary summit. In principle, the EU has already agreed to a 10-point plan, but the specifics of the mission will be set out following this Thursday’s mission.

The EU has committed to sending a Naval force to patrol the Mediterranean, but the question of what is going to actually happen still has to be answered. Are EU vessels going to take over from Libya’s Coast Guard and patrol close to North Africa’s shores? Are EU vessels going to push the boats back? Are they going to force people to return to Libya after they have spent their last cent on the dangerous voyage, only to face torture and death?

Another issue which the PM really needs to push with his counterpart Matteo Renzi is for mandatory burden sharing on a per capita ration. The 10-point plan still refers to voluntary burden sharing, but it is absolutely clear that more needs to be done by other member states in this regard. The sad reality of it all is that many migrants still end up going north anyway, once their applications are processed and approved. Refusing to take them in only exacerbates their own problems because it feeds the desire within migrants to make it north even more.

The EU also said that it wants to see a concerted effort to destroy old fishing boats used by smugglers. Months back, many scoffed at Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s efforts to buy up old fishing boats in Indonesia. Perhaps that idea is not as crazy as it sounds. How is the EU force going to distinguish between a functional fishing boat and one that is going to be used to smuggle people to Europe? What anger and wrath do we risk incurring if we destroy boats belonging to bona fide fishermen?

It seems that the EU has finally been shocked into action, realising the enormity of the situation in the Mediterranean. But we cannot afford any dilly-dallying around. While verbal commitment is good, we need action and we need it now. Malta and Italy, and in particular our navies (small as ours is) have the expertise, experience and knowhow when it comes to saving lives at sea. Action is needed as from Friday. Anything less would be tantamount to more passiveness and inaction in the face of a human tragedy.

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