Malta will not be turned into a “migration hub” for the Mediterranean, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said on Wednesday as the country faced accusations that it is failing to help migrants in distress at sea. 

Rescue NGO Sea-Eye has accused Malta of failing to abide by its international obligations to coordinate maritime emergencies several times, after 58 people were rescued from Malta’s search and rescue zone and taken to Pozzallo in Sicily on Sunday.

On Monday, the NGO Alarm Phone said that another 450 people had drifted into Malta’s SAR zone and were eventually taken to Ragusa after Maltese authorities did not intervene

Video: Jonathan Borg

Replying to questions by Times of Malta, Camilleri characterised the criticism as “attacks” in response to what he described as Malta’s tough stance on people smugglers. 

“I understand that the more our country is tough on those who abuse the asylum system, the more we can expect attacks on us as well as the Armed Forces,” he said. 

“If you look at the decisions we’ve made these past few years, we’ve seen the creation of a more just asylum system, just with those who have a right to asylum and tough on those who do not. Last year we had a record number of deportations.” 

“These attacks are unjust and come from people who expect our country to serve as a migration hub for the Mediterranean. That will never happen.”

He insisted that the AFM has always responded and carried out rescues when people are in genuine distress. 

“The attacks on the AFM did not start today, we have seen them over a number of years, members of the opposition even filed a complaint about it,” he continued. 

“What I can say is these people do their jobs conscientiously and in accordance with international regulations every day. Over the years they have saved thousands of lives and whenever it was necessary they have always carried out rescues.” 

“We’ve seen their actions over the years and we’ve also seen the outcomes of investigations into their conduct. Given that, I think they should keep doing their good work for the benefit of all." 

The AFM is currently under scrutiny in an ongoing constitutional case filed by 50 migrants who claim their rights were breached when they were sent back to Libya and placed in detention in an operation coordinated by the Maltese authorities.

The AFM was also accused of trying to sabotage a migrant boat by rescue NGO Alarm Phone, however, evidence later emerged that officers had been following standard procedure when they instructed those on board to pull the engine’s kill switch. 

400 migrants who were detained on pleasure boats last year are also seeking compensation from Maltese authorities for their treatment.

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