Malta is Europe’s smallest state, but this has not stopped us from making every effort to save lives at sea, for many years now.
Every year thousands cross the Mediterranean where we are caught in the middle between North Africa and Europe.
Other countries much bigger than us tell us that everyone has migration problems. We know. We are ready to do our part, but it is unfair to leave us on our own to carry this disproportionate burden.
1% of the population in Malta are irregular migrants waiting in centres to be processed. In our migrant centres we have double the number they are equipped to accommodate.
Since 2005, almost 9% of our population size came through irregular migration routes. This is not because we cannot patrol our borders. It is because human traffickers and people smugglers have developed a very profitable business activity. Every boat full of people they send across the Mediterranean earns them thousands and thousands of euros.
They do not care what happens to the people they pack on boats to cross the dangerous Mediterranean.
Like the people they pack on the boats, we are being left at the mercy of human traffickers and people smugglers.
We have a reputation of being generous and welcoming. We want to preserve the right of people to seek protection. But we can only do so much, and we certainly cannot do it alone. The European migration problem is a collective responsibility and we need to find a way to address this challenge together.
But we are being left alone. Words of sympathy are not enough. We need practical help. We need to relocate a number of migrants to other countries.
Some countries may tell us why complain now, what has changed?
What they might not know is that in the first three months of the year, there was a 438% increase in arrivals in the Central Mediterranean route. In April this was three times as much.
So far this year 1,500 irregular migrants have reached Malta – nearly half the total amount we had for the whole of last year.
More arrivals are expected as summer approaches and the situation in North Africa gets worse. More and more people will see crossing the Mediterranean as their only hope for a better life.
The bigger the problem grows, the less solidarity we get. Since 2005, only 8% of irregular migrants in Malta have been relocated to other EU member states.
We have asked for European solidarity on relocations and for this year, until now, when 1,500 have arrived, only France and Portugal, have pledged to take 36 migrants.
Malta cannot be expected to carry the weight of the disproportionate burden of migration on its own, when ultimately it is protecting a European external border.
We will do our part on migration, but we will not and cannot become Europe’s crisis centre.
When Malta joined the European Union, it understood that it joined a group of countries with shared responsibilities, aspirations and values.
We have always helped in every way, usually with much larger contributions per capita, because we believe in these ideals. We supported neighbours close-by and fellow member states afar in whatever support was requested. Solidarity is something we believe in.
We are asking for support and we know that the value of solidarity gave birth to the European Union.
We also know that when this value is lacking, we weaken the very soul that is supposed to give life to the European Union.