A total of 128 pledges by EU countries to relocate migrants rescued by Malta have yet to materialise, the government has lamented in a letter sent to the European Commission. 

The letter is the latest escalation in a standoff that has led the government to charter a tourist boat owned by Captain Morgan to hold 56 rescued migrants just outside Maltese territorial waters. 

It confirms that the migrants will be held there “pending their relocation to other European countries”. 

Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo and Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri argue in the letter that Malta is not in a position to ensure the availability of a “safe place” for rescued migrants within Maltese territory. 

“We need a more effective, fair and systemic mechanism of relocation and not tieing pledges to specific boat or boats. At the time of writing, 128 pledges (122 of which were made in 2019) for relocations are yet to materialise. There were no relocations for migrants that were disembarked in Malta in 2020”, the letter says. 

The government is urgently demanding a more “predictable and mandatory” relocation mechanism to be agreed upon in the upcoming EU migration pact. 

In the long-term, the only form of support that can effectively help countries like Malta is mandatory relocation of asylum seekers once a certain threshold has been reached,  as well as an EU-wide system to manage “returns” of migrants to third countries, the letter states. 

“Unless the EU acts now we risk witnessing an already-difficult situation becoming worse, potentially resulting in more human suffering, trafficking and loss of human life”. 

The minister say that since 2005, 21,848 migrants from North Africa have reached Malta. 

“In 2019, Malta had 3,405 arrivals. To put things into perspective, this figure would translate into 486,000 in Italy, 527,000 in France, 646,000 in Germany and 370,000 in Spain. 

“As regards relocations, since 2005 there were 5,142 relocations from Malta, 3,404 of which were to third countries such as the United States. Less than 2000 people have been returned through the EU readmission agreements and the returns policies”.

This is yet another example where numbers speak for themselves, the ministers said, noting that solidarity had been sadly lacking from most of the other EU member states.

Malta closed its ports to asylum seekers earlier this month, following a similar move by Italy. It has now been facing increased scrutiny over its use of private fishing vessels to push migrants back to Libya. 

A magisterial inquiry into the death of several migrants out at sea over the Easter period is ongoing. 

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