No Frontex mission will be held in Malta’s territorial waters after the government and the EU’s border control agency failed to reach agreement over irregular immigration patrols.
“We have not reached any agreement, so there will be no Frontex mission this year,” Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici told The Sunday Times.
Although various technical and political meetings were held between the two sides over the past few weeks, Malta continued to resist the idea of hosting a mission because it did not consider the current rules of engagement to be in its interest.
Furthermore, Frontex was unable to convince potential participating member states to change these rules as demanded by Malta.
“If Frontex changes its mind and manages to convince the other member states about the rules of engagement for the mission it wants to hold in Malta, we will reconsider our position.
“However, at this stage, we have ruled out the possibility of hosting a Frontex mission,” Dr Mifsud Bonnici said.
The news comes amid claims by Libyan Prime Minister Mahmoud Baghdadi that his country cannot do anything to stop the flow of immigrants reaching Italy and Malta from the troubled North African country.
According to the Frontex guidelines, any member state hosting a mission will have to accommodate on its territory all immigrants and asylum seekers found during the operation.
The government has always maintained that these rules were not in Malta’s interest since international law dictated immigrants in distress should be taken to the closest safe port.
Frontex sources said other member states had been sounded out on Malta’s demand to have different rules for its mission based on the ‘closest safe port’ concept. However, the Warsaw-based agency failed to convince them.
This is the second year in a row that Malta has decided not to participate in any Frontex patrol mission in the sea between Sicily, Malta and Libya.
Last year, following four years of active participation, Malta pulled out at the 11th hour from a planned mission.
Although the government had said it was not taking part because of the low number of immigrants landing by sea in 2009, many interpreted the withdrawal as a snub, following the approval of the new guidelines by the EU Council and the European Parliament.
Malta recorded its biggest influx of illegal immigrants in 2008, though the number of crossings from Libya fell by almost half the following year.
Last year, only 47 immigrants arrived, following the controversial pushback agreement between Libya and Italy.
Since the start of the conflict in Libya last February, more than 1,000 immigrants have landed in Malta.
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