Increased naval and aerial surveillance in the strait between Libya and Lampedusa is having a positive effect on Malta, according to a report issued in Brussels.

According to the fifth evaluation report on the functioning of the Schengen area, higher detection figures of irregular migrants can be attributed to operation Mare Nostrum conducted by the Italian navy since October.

Through its patrols, Italy had already saved the lives of thousands of irregular immigrants but they also had a ‘positive’ effect on Malta, so much so that practically no irregular immigrants landed on Maltese shores since the operation got underway.

“It is clear Malta is benefiting immensely from Mare Nostrum, as the arrival of irregular immigrants has almost stopped,” a senior EU official told Times of Malta.

On the other hand, the situation in Italy has become almost unmanageable and the European Commission is now preparing to trigger an early warning mechanism there, qualifying the country for more help from the EU and member states.

It is clear Malta is benefiting immensely from Mare Nostrum

The Dublin III directive, amended last year, provides for the triggering of such a system in countries under intense pressure.

Through this mechanism, the country in question can ask for additional funds and resources to help it cope.

According to the Commission’s Schengen report, the Central Mediterranean route, comprising the strait between Libya, Malta and Sicily, was the main route used by irregular immigrants in 2013 to reach Europe.

Compared with 2012, irregular immigrants detected on this route increased four-fold, reaching the 40,000 mark.

The main nationalities of the migrants intercepted were Syrians and Eritreans, who normally qualify for automatic humanitarian status.

On an EU level, irregular border crossings in 2013 totalled 107,365, an increase of 48 per cent over 2012, and comparable to 2009-2010 levels but still lower than reported during the Arab Spring in 2011.

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