Updated 4.10pm with Home Affairs reaction

A top Italian politician has expressed frustration at Malta's unwillingness to rescue migrants, saying the country is "pretending not to see" people at sea. 

"Malta's attitude is starting to grate," said Tommaso Foti, who heads the ruling right-wing Fratelli d'Italia grouping in Italy's parliament. "They consistently pretend not to see and never intervene. Our coastguard is under pressure," he said. 

Fratelli d'Italia is Italy's largest political party and is led by the country's prime minister, Giorgia Meloni. 

Malta has rescued just one migrant this year while the number rescued by Italy has tripled to over 30,000, data collected by the UNHCR indicates.

Foti's accusation that Malta is looking the other way reflects sentiment within several NGOs that work in the sector. 

"The last time I saw the AFM rescue someone was so long ago I can’t remember,” Tamino Bohm, tactical coordinator for search and rescue NGO Sea Watch, told Times of Malta.

Maltese authorities deny the existence of any plan to systematically ignore rescue calls. 

"The Armed Forces of Malta monitors all reports and sightings of migrant vessels in Malta’s Search and Rescue Region," a Home Affairs Ministry spokesperson told Times of Malta, citing the "constant communication" that is under way with "all the entities and organisations concerned, including the rescue coordination authorities of neighbouring countries and private vessels sailing in the area." 

State of emergency

While Malta has been relatively unaffected by migrant arrivals this year, massive inflows into Italy over Easter weekend have forced it to announce a state of emergency on immigration.

The Italian government's decision to declare a state of emergency is intended to ensure better management of migrant arrivals, more funds for reception centres and faster repatriations.

Italy's Civil Protection Ministry said an initial €5 million has been allocated. 

Tommaso Foti. Photo: Wikimedia CommonsTommaso Foti. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

"Let it be clear, we are not solving the problem, the solution can only depend on responsible intervention by the European Union," Civil Protection Minister Nello Musumeci said.

The right-wing government elected in October had pledged to curb migration but arrivals have risen by 8,000 from last year.

1,200 people arrived over the past few days, including 400 who had been drifting on a fishing boat in Malta's search and rescue area.

AFM insists it received no request to help

NGOs on Monday criticised the Maltese government for not having coordinated a rescue, having instead instructed a merchant ship to just refuel the boat.

The AFM on Tuesday said it followed international obligations and there was no request for rescue from the people in the boat.

The NGO Alarm Phone described that AFM statement as 'absurd'.

"Since our first alert at 00:50h CEST on 9 April we sent 21 emails to Malta requesting a rescue operation. We also called and asked for rescue, only to be hung up on. Shame on Armed Forces Malta for lying and denying responsibility!"

The Nationalist Party also called on the government to explain its actions, insisting that people should not be left at risk of dying for political expediency.

Migrant crossings see deadliest quarter since 2017: UN 

January to March 2023 was the deadliest quarter for migrants crossing the central Mediterranean since 2017, the United Nations said Wednesday, with 441 lives lost while attempting to reach Europe.

"The persisting humanitarian crisis in the central Mediterranean is intolerable. With more than 20,000 deaths recorded on this route since 2014, I fear that these deaths have been normalised," said Antonio Vitorino, head of the UN's International Organization for Migration.



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