The EU’s acknowledgement of the increased pressure brought about by NGO search-and-rescue operations has been welcomed by the Home Affairs Ministry, as has its suggestion that migrants should not necessarily disembark in frontline countries.

Touted as a “fresh start” on migration by the European Commission, the proposed Pact on Migration and Asylum puts to bed the Dublin II Regulation.

Among others, it is proposing ‘return sponsorships’, where a member state takes over responsibility for returning a person with no right to stay on behalf of another state. 

Asked for a reaction, the ministry’s spokesperson said the government was still “carefully studying” the details of the proposed pact.

She added that the pact provided for “a number of positive measures”, mainly mandatory burden sharing, cooperation with countries of transit and a greater emphasis on returns.

“Relocation should apply to all migrants, irrespective of their chances of obtaining asylum,” the ministry said, adding that Malta and other states were seeking clarifications “on different parts of the text”, while a number of countries have already expressed themselves against the new pact.

'Equal importance to flag states and countries where NGOs are established'

Referring to search-and rescue by NGO vessels, the government believes that such initiatives “could only be useful” if they included a clear plan on disembarkation.

“It is positive that the commission has acknowledged that the operations of these private vessels expose coastal states to an increased and immediate pressure and that migrants do not necessarily need to be disembarked in frontline countries like Malta.

“In fact, the proposed recommendation gives equal importance to the role of the flag states of these private vessels and the countries where the NGOs are legally established.”

One of the commission’s recommendations specifically focuses on cooperation among states when it comes to operations by search-and-rescue vessels owned or operated by private entities.

In it, the commission notes that the continued disembarkations have “direct consequences on the migration management systems” of coastal states and “place increased and immediate pressure on their migration and asylum systems, including on their reception and processing capacity”.

It acknowledges that the regular presence of NGO vessels triggers specific operational needs of cooperation between the boats and national authorities.

It says that the issue concerns different state: those that coordinate the rescue operations, those that receive the rescued people, those where the NGOs are legally established and those from where the vessels used in the search-and-rescue activities have obtained their flag.

According to the commission, there remains a need to address this search-and-rescue practice through a framework that lays down rules for solidarity between states and which addresses the need for reinforced cooperation between the flag and costal countries.

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