As it works to manage the COVID-19 outbreak and migration challenges, Malta has not yet asked for additional financial or operational support from the EU.

Still, the European Commission has said it stands ready to support the Maltese authorities to address the impact of coronavirus on migration management, a spokesperson told Times of Malta.

“We are in contact with the Maltese authorities and there are various ongoing projects funded by the EU to support the reception system and health services provision. Other options for support could be explored as necessary,” she said.

However, the spokesperson added, no formal request has been made by Malta for additional EU financial support or for additional operational support via our agencies.

The Commission was contacted after Malta closed its ports citing COVID-19 pressures on resources due to the need to manage the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. 

This week, at least five migrants died and another seven are missing, also presumed dead, after their boat was left at sea without assistance for days on end.

Foreign Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo has urged the EU to launch an urgent humanitarian mission to Libya, arguing that this would help stem the flow of migrants through the Mediterranean sea. 

That proposal and other issues raised by Malta will be discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council videoconference planned for April 22.

“The key to solving all issues related to Libya lies in the ending of the conflict. That requires an immediate stop of the fighting by all actors, commitment to a total ceasefire and return to political negotiations to reach a political solution to the crisis in Libya,” a Commission spokesperson said.

Asked for its response to the death of at least five people after their boat drifted at sea for days, the spokesperson said the Commission regretted all loss of life in the Mediterranean. 

“Saving lives has been the top priority of the EU's action on migration and we work relentlessly to this end. Since 2015, EU operations have contributed to saving over 760,000 lives in the Mediterranean.”

The Commission reiterated that the duty to render assistance to people or vessels in distress at sea was an obligation under international law. 

“We encourage member states to continue working together and with Frontex in the spirit of solidarity to find solutions in this particularly challenging context.”

Why hasn't Malta asked for additional EU support?

The authorities are currently not in a position to provide logistical and operational assistance for the disembarkation of irregular migrants in Malta, the ministries of foreign and home affairs told Times of Malta

“This approach has also been adopted by other member states. In addition to these challenges, Malta's migrant reception facilities are currently full. 

“Other member states and EU agencies may decide to carry out interception missions as long as they have a clear plan on the subsequent disembarkation of migrants.”

Malta's priority, a spokesperson for the ministries said when asked whether Malta had asked for additional support, was to tackle the challenge at source and fight people smugglers in Libya. 

On Friday the Foreign Affairs Ministry said that Malta's call for an urgent EU mission in Libya to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe has been backed by several member states.

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