The Malta Independent 23 September 2019, Monday

How do MEP candidates suggest EU deals with rescue NGOs in the Mediterranean

Kevin Schembri Orland & Albert Galea Sunday, 19 May 2019, 11:00 Last update: about 5 months ago


The Malta Independent on Sunday has asked the MEP candidates how they believe the EU should deal with NGOs rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean.

NGO ships in the Mediterranean, with the aim of rescuing those adrift in the Mediterranean Sea, and at risk of drowning, has been a hot topic over in recent months, with a number of EU countries taking a stance against their work.

Many of the MEP candidates stressed that international laws must be followed, and that countries must be fair in respect of those who need protection, and firm with those who are not eligible.

Solidarity was also included in a few of the responses, with candidates highlighting the need for better solidarity amongst EU states.



Roberta Metsola

The Nationalist Party’s Members in the European Parliament have always had a strong position on migration, and will continue to do so in the coming legislature.  The European Parliament is clear in that everyone operating a sea-going vessel, must follow international law. This is also true for NGO vessels. When it comes to migration, our overriding principle must always to be fair with those in need of protection, firm with those who are not eligible and strong with those who are seeking to exploit the vulnerable. The new, strengthened EU Border and Coast Guard Law, that I drafted and led, should followed accordingly. PN Members in the European Parliament will continue to apply pressure on the Council to agree with legislation, such as the reform of the Dublin Regulation, already adopted by the European Parliament.


Michael Mercieca

In my opinion the rescue ships are being used as more of a tool to assist those making money from the unfortunate situation in which the migrants are finding themselves. The EU should impose on the countries ‘lending’ their flags to these ships that any migrants rescued by such rescue ships should be taken in only by the country who issued the ship’s flag. The EU should also work harder and invest more in the migrants’ countries to make sure that the migrants do not need to escape from their homes.


David Casa, David Stellini, Francis Zammit Dimech, Michael Briguglio, Peter Agius, Frank Psaila, Roselyn Borg Knight, Dione Borg.

The Nationalist Party’s Members in the European Parliament have always had a strong position on migration, and will continue to do so in the coming legislature. The European Parliament is clear in that everyone operating a sea vessel must follow international law and this is true for NGO vessels. When it comes to migration, our overriding principle must always to be fair with those in need of protection, firm with those who are not eligible and strong with those who seek to exploit the vulnerable. The strengthened Border and Coast Guard Agency should act accordingly. PN Members in the European Parliament will continue to put pressure on the Council to agree with legislation, such as the Dublin Reform, already adopted by the European Parliament.



Miriam Dalli

I will continue pushing for policies guided by international laws and standards, which seek to disrupt the trafficking of people. Rescuing lives at sea is an obligation and there should be a coordinated European response, taking into consideration the rights and obligations of each Member State. This could also mean coordination between EU agencies and NGOs, with clear rules of operation agreed to at an EU level.


Robert Micallef

We need proper European guidelines and arrangements for temporary measures as a first step towards a permanent European system that will give us a balance between solidarity and responsibility. We cannot sustain the current system of ad hoc negotiations amongst member states every time migrants are rescued in the Mediterranean because this puts lives at risk. We will continue to respect international obligations but we will reject any attempt to make Malta a Mediterranean disembarkation centre for refugees stranded at sea. At the same time, the EU will maintain its efforts to help create economic opportunities in Africa. During the Maltese Presidency of the EU, I had the privilege of chairing the negotiations with the European Parliament for a €44 billion investment plan to stem irregular migration flows from Africa to Europe by creating economic opportunities across the continent.


Alex Agius Saliba

NGOs, especially those with operations in the Mediterranean, need to be adequately and properly regulated. They must respect rules. We cannot end up in a situation where the NGOs race against the coast guards to reach migrants, or end up exploited by smuggler models in the Mediterranean. If the EU does not act now, then the efforts and investment to train the Libyan coastguard and prevent departures to avoid the loss of lives at sea will be in vain.

My idea is that NGOs rescuing migrants should have strict rules and must comply with the instructions given by maritime coordination centres. If they do not do this, then there need to be consequences. Their whereabouts need to be monitored at all times.


Cyrus Engerer

The EU must differentiate between bona fide NGOs that work hard to save lives and other NGOs who are abusing the system and endangering the lives of refugees by luring them to the sea.

The European Border and Coast Guard Agency’s strengthened role must now leave its mark. While Malta will retain primary responsibility of its borders and security, the 10,000 coast guards that will be deployed by the agency must leave their mark.


Fleur Vella

Having spent over a decade participating in NGOs, I cannot over-emphasis how important this sector is for social well-being. However, it is important that NGOs respect the law just as any other person does. In the event of NGOs not respecting the law, action needs to be taken accordingly at European level instead of all the responsibility being imposed on border member states.


Lorna Vassallo

A directive or regulation should be proposed. If not, at least harmonisation should be sought between all member states.  In December 2018, the Court of Auditors itself said the system is not transparent. NGO Status is based on self-declaration and some have breached international laws, if not criminal laws. Although their work is usually highly commendable, international law and human rights should be the beacons that guide states and organisations alike for a solution to be found. The health, dignity and human rights of migrants should be protected at all times. Politically, Africa should be a priority.


Mary Gauci

The international obligations and rights of each member state, together with the safety of the immigrants, should be kept in mind while discussing an agreed way forward by all concerned.


Felix Galea Busuttil

Let me start by voicing my main concern regarding immigration. Europe means solidarity and Europeans ought to stand as one – united to safeguard EU directives and loyal in the fair distribution of migrants. Malta has obeyed all the regulations and has not only stepped in as refuge but also as a mediator. In a merciful Europe, no nation can close its borders and dust off international and communal responsibilities. A life, no matter in what form, must be protected and saved and, once saved, international and continental equitable laws must be respected. If an NGO is saving ONE life, then that NGO must be supported.  Nevertheless, it would be advisable if immigration is tackled beyond the seas and its dangers – ie, at the start of each relevant journey.


Josianne Cutajar

There needs to be a realistic discussion about the way NGOs operate. I believe that the European Agency responsible for border control and search and rescue operations also needs to invest in the reception facilities of all EU Member States. It should also itself be responsible for the fair and equitable redistribution of asylum seekers among Member States if we are to see effective changes in this regard especially for states on the periphery. In this context, NGOs rescuing migrants should be dealing directly with the Agency and not with individual states and their differing agendas.


Josef Caruana

Today, people – including myself – are having serious doubts about how NGOs work in the Mediterranean, since they seem to operate in a free-for-all situation. We have heard of unregistered ships and even claims of Mafia involvement. It’s the least to say that one pretends that such NGOs have to abide by international maritime laws, while also respecting a country’s rights. A realistic debate and investigation by the European Union is much needed in order to confirm that millions of funds are being correctly spent.


Noel Cassar

There needs to be a constructive discussion between all parties on how NGOs operates. NGOs are there to help migrants but are not there to incentivize them to migrate to European shores. Unfortunately, during the past decade, this was one of the main reasons why we had experienced a high influx of illegal migration. The NGOs must respect international obligations on how to operate and not ending up breaching them. Furthermore, the rights of each member state should be respected.



Godfrey Farrugia

First and foremost, the EU asylum migration system has been handled in a way that is not fit for purpose. There is no long-term plausible strategy and there should be a forthcoming common EU response. I am in favour of human rights and human dignity. Migration should be an organised process and humanitarian corridors should be created and overseen when mass displacement occurs of natural calamities and war. I am also in favour of refugees and asylum seekers seeking advice regarding processing their requests at centres in host countries rather than having to cross the Mediterranean Sea as boat people. With regard to disembarkation and NGOs, each one of them has to be taken within the pretext of an ad-hoc policy, since there is no long-term policy because it is something short-term. Malta needs to guard its sovereignty, identity and sustainability because of its limited accommodation capacity. From an EU angle, we need to safeguard solidarity, equity and humanity. There are also international laws and so diplomacy needs to be involved, as does compassion. Each NGO issue has to be supported on its own merits.


Anthony Buttigieg

Whilst it is paramount that we save all those who attempt to cross the Mediterranean, it is evident that some NGOs, through their enthusiasm to do just that, have played into the hands of human traffickers and organised crime. It is also obvious there is no communication between them and EU naval/border patrols. One of the ways this could be avoided is if NGOs are registered and there is a coordinated effort, via a central control, between EU security forces and the NGOs. This would lead to a greater understanding between the two and less manipulation by darker forces.


Martin Cauchi Inglott

The EU has failed on the migration front for 17 years. Calamities at sea have led countries to step in to save lives, but then stepping out after creating a pull factor – the void being filled by NGOs. Although NGOs are doing a very noble job in saving lives, search and rescue remains a national competence. So, if elected, my focus would be towards building a strong relationship with Libya, with the objective of establishing EU asylum processing centres there, whilst simultaneously supporting the UN to repatriate those migrants from Libya who do not qualify for asylum, thus avoiding the loss of life at sea.



Carmel Cacopardo

The assistance of NGOs is indispensable in saving lives and NGOs that are rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean should not be criminalised. They are saving lives, stepping in to carry out the duties which various Mediterranean states continuously avoid. Amending the Dublin Rules is crucial, as this would facilitate cooperation between EU states on the frontline and the rest of the EU member states which are expected to shoulder their share of responsibility.


Mina Tolu

Here’s what the EU should not be doing: criminalising those who rescue people. Here’s what we should be doing: re-establishing a European sea-rescue mission and working to implement legal and safe routes for migration. I would also work for a fair common European asylum system that is based on solidarity and which ensures that all EU member states are doing their part. Finally, there are some things which we should never accept. No to building walls. No to closing ports to rescue ships. No to regional disembarkation platforms outside the EU. Not now. Not ever.



Simon Borg

NGOs rescuing migrants is clearly not a solution for the migration issue. I will therefore be insisting that the EU relocate its open doors for refugees to a safe country in Africa, in order that the need to cross ceases and all losses in the Mediterranean related to migration are – as far as is reasonably practicable – avoided.


Naged Megally

I believe that the NGOs that are rescuing illegal immigrants are part of human trafficking and, because of this, they are encouraging many of these immigrants to risk their lives to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Never forget that the amount of money given to them by the EU, in the spirit of saving lives, is turned into  a business for money with the same aim as human traffickers. Therefore, I request the interruption of any financial aid given to them by the EU and if they break the law, they must be prosecuted like any criminal breaking the law.


Independent Candidates

Arnold Cassola

I believe that the EU should guarantee that these NGOs act ‘humanely’, in accordance with the exigencies dictated by natural law. This means that saving lives at sea should be the priority. However, the EU should take up responsibility for drawing up a common EU code of conduct at sea, when faced with such tragic situations.


Antoine Borg

From my point of view the EU wastes its time and resources by focusing on a symptom of the problem. The real problem is not having migrants in the Med; it is the people-trafficking rings who enslave people and send them off to their death in rickety boats in the Mediterranean. Europe should tackle the root of the problem if it wants to sort out the symptoms.


Stephen Florian

NGO ships should be controlled and registered by one EU body which would then give account for the true state of affairs in the Mediterranean. Burden-sharing should also be administered and enforced by the same governing body, in line with the country of registration of the NGO rescue ships. EU inspectors should be stationed on board all rescue ships in order to see that all the rules are enforced. At the same time, the EU should set up effective monitoring stations on African land in order to help assist prospective economic migrants back to the safety of their homelands wherever possible and help them achieve a status quo in their countries of origin. At this stage, a second EU organisation is needed for financing and rebuilding democracy and economies in African countries who need such help. Countries such as China should not be allowed to exploit Africa for its mineral resources (as they are currently doing). Arms sales and human trafficking should be banished and perpetrators should be clamped down with the full force of International Law. The EU has to rise up to the challenge and abolish the modern slave market for good.


Mario Borg

The standing Malta-EU treaty must be abolished, including Malta’s obligation to house ‘migrants’ who intend to migrate to other countries. Malta must also distance itself from policies that promote ‘regime change’. A distinction between rescuing and providing a ferry service is essential. Waiting for passengers to arrive is not ‘rescue’. Travelling from sub-Saharan countries to Europe is long and expensive. Considering the poverty in such countries, many passengers can only acquire enough money through criminal means, including robbery. Consequently NGOs are amplifying the chaos in Africa. The captains of vessels abusing maritime rescue obligations should have their licences and registration nullified.


Joe Aquilina

My vision is to help African people in their own continent. I will be pushing forward my idea and identifying those countries that are willing to welcome African citizens. I believe that the EU should help these countries develop and become the envy of their neighbours, therefore excelling in industry and tourism. Because certain countries enjoy a great deal of sun, I believe they could contribute solar energy to Europe, thereby helping Europe reduce the  harmful emissions from power stations. I see no need for the work of NGOs as I believe they are just helping illegal human trafficking. I believe it is Africa that needs Europeans, and not vice-versa. Unfortunately, for some reason the EU is not doing its best.


Not all candidates responded to the question.

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