Around 2,000 migrants who were on their way to Malta have been detained by the Libyan coastguard in the first four months of this year, the foreign minister said in Parliament on Tuesday.

Evarist Bartolo was asked by Labour MP Jean Claude Micallef about the outcome of his recent visit to Libya during which the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding for closer cooperation on migration.

The two sides committed themselves to set up coordination centres in Valletta and Tripoli to fight human trafficking. These shall start operating on July 1.

In his reply, Bartolo said this year there has been a four-fold increase in the number of crossings from the north African coast to Europe which resulted in 1,700 arrivals to Malta in the first four months.

This was half the entire amount for 2019 and had it not been for the Libyan coastguard, the arrivals could have approached the 4,000 mark.

He added that Libyan authorities had stepped up their fight against human trafficking but needed more resources to patrol their huge borders.

The foreign minister again expressed his disappointment on the lack of solidarity being shown by EU countries with respect to migration and warned that COVID-19 might make the situation worse.

He said the pandemic would result in greater poverty and more job losses, forcing an even higher number of Africans to reach Europe in the hope of a better life.

Bartolo also took a dig at those advocating a harsh stance against migration, saying that it was not very long ago that the Maltese were the ones who were migrating to countries like Tunisia and Egypt in search for a better future.

“Now that the roles have been reversed we have to show compassion,” he remarked.

The foreign minister once again called for more EU action, particularly on trade.

“Trying to impose trade agreements which place African countries at a disadvantage with their European counterparts will make the situation worse rather than foster the much needed economic growth and wealth which would discourage migration,” he said.

Bartolo said Malta would also be doing its part as consignments of potatoes which could not be exported to the Netherlands due to COVID-19 restrictions would be sent to Namibia.

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