Robert Abela has condemned "all hate speech", saying the Maltese “are better than that” after monkey noises and a Nazi salute were made at an anti-immigration protest.

On Monday some 500 people met in Valletta for a sit-down in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and to call for justice for Lassana Cisse, a man killed in an alleged racially motivated drive-by shooting in Malta last year.

Around 40 people turned up in ‘counter-protest’ against immigration, chanting “this is my country not yours.” They booed while anti-racism protestors kneeled for a minute's silence, and at least one person made a Nazi salute and others made monkey noises and gestures.

Reacting on Wednesday, Abela said: “I condemn any hate speech, discourse, booing. We are better than that as a people. I call for calm and to understand the realities of these people."

The prime minister said that whoever crossed the sea seeking asylum was desperate, and the priority remained to save lives.

However, he said Malta "cannot allow Africa to be transported into Europe" and the solution remained to stop people from crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

Last month Malta held migrants in four tourist boats offshore after ports were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. They were finally allowed to disembark this week amid claims of a revolt on one of the vessels - the Europa II.

Discussions with European Commission 'ongoing'

Abela on insisted discussions with the European Commission on the expenses incurred for these ships, were ongoing, despite its stated refusal to cover the costs. The government admitted it was paying €3,000 per boat, per day to hire the Captain Morgan vessels.

The Maltese authorities had sought to use the National Programme of the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF) to support the operation which saw 425 migrants held on four tourist boats, some for over a month. 

The boats were anchored just outside territorial waters and those aboard have since been brought ashore amid claims of a revolt on one of the vessels - the Captain Morgan launch Europa II.

A poster held during the anti-immigration protest. Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaA poster held during the anti-immigration protest. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

On Wednesday Abela said discussions with the commission over the expenses were ongoing. 

Malta, he reiterated, had been “left on its own until a few days ago. We did our utmost to save lives and our strong message has been heard”. 

He noted that for the past years, European countries had always dealt with the migration situation boat by boat. 

“We need a holistic plan and the migration pact what will be wrapped up soon will be catalytic.”

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