“I categorically deny that any decision has ever been taken by the government to stop and suspend or disrupt rescue coordination. That is an obligation that we have and rather than talking about a legal obligation, I am talking about an obligation that we as human beings have towards each other, without distinction between Maltese and Gozitans and between immigrants. Obligations born of the fact that we are human beings and we want to take care of each other’s humanity and we need to understand everyone. “
This was stated by Prime Minister Robert Abela on Monday morning after giving his testimony in the criminal inquiry opened in connection with the allegations made against the soldiers of the Armed Forces of Malta, the Brigadier and the Prime Minister himself by the non-governmental organization Repubblika and in which it was alleged that they committed voluntary homicide of a number of immigrants at sea by not rescuing them.
Asked by journalists about the rescue of 57 migrants on board a ship offshore, the Prime Minister stated that this is further proof of how much the Maltese Government has always fulfilled its obligation of coordination and rescue. Dr Abela stressed that the government carried out and coordinated this rescue operation using private and state assets. This is in circumstances where many boats are leaving the Libyan coast for the island of Lampedusa and for Malta, whose ports such as those in Italy are closed.
The Prime Minister announced that last Friday he had a long discussion with the President of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen. He stressed that Malta’s position is that a solution must be reached with the European Commission and before that solution is reached, Malta will not allow those immigrants to enter our ports.
“The European Commission’s position was in reverse, first we let these immigrants enter our ports and then start the discussion on the possibility of relocation. I held firm in the position that that was not a satisfactory option because as has often happened in the past, we let them come in and no solution is found. Therefore, things must be done the other way around, finding a solution and then relocating those immigrants to other countries,” said the Prime Minister.
At the same time, he added that the government is ensuring that immigrants are given the necessary necessities while reminding that here we are talking about human beings. “This is an issue that has nothing to do with racism. It is the particular reality that our country is in at the moment with Covid-19 and the second reality is that our country is no longer able to cope with the issue of immigrants,” the Prime Minister said.
Regarding the rescue operation that took place last Easter weekend, the Prime Minister reiterated that no pushback was made. He said that in this operation a private ship was used because the assets of the State, including patrol boats and airplanes, were being used on five rescue operations at the same time. This is to ensure that as far as possible, not a single life is lost.
Dr Abela stated that he regrets every life that is lost and therefore the government is doing and will continue to do its best to save all the lives it can. He reiterated that the government has complied with the search and rescue convention which stipulates that the state must use its assets as well as private assets to coordinate the rescue. He recalled that with the ports of Malta, Lampedusa and Italy closed, the lifeboat had the Libyan flag, so it went to its flag country where the immigrants were brought.