Malta and France have agreed future Frontex anti-migration missions should continue off the island's coasts but under clearer rules of engagement.

The future of the missions and the strengthening of the EU's border control agency were discussed at length during a meeting between Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici and his French counterpart Eric Besson in Paris, yesterday.

A French Immigration Ministry dossier sent to Brussels last month questioned the effectiveness of the ongoing Nautilus IV mission in the Mediterranean.

It said the mission was not achieving any concrete results due to the different interpretation of the rules of engagement when migrants were found drifting at sea. According to France, the €10 million mission was "a complete failure".

Following the talks yesterday, Dr Mifsud Bonnici said that although Malta agreed there was room for improvement, the patrols were still important to Malta and France.

"For Malta it is better to have the Frontex missions than not to have them," Dr Mifsud Bonnici said.

"Apart from serving as a deterrent, the missions offer direct and first-hand information to the EU on what Malta is facing. This is very important and helps us persuade other member states to offer concrete solidarity to Malta."

Both countries agreed that clearer rules of engagement for the Frontex missions should be settled once and for all and there should be an agreement reached at EU level on who was ultimately responsible for illegal immigrants found in international waters.

"This issue has been dragging on for too long and Minister Besson agrees with us that the time has come to settle this matter. Member states and Frontex should decide the way forward," Dr Mifsud Bonnici said.

The start of this year's Frontex mission was postponed several times due to disagreements between Malta and Italy over who should be responsible for illegal immigrants found at sea.

The two countries finally agreed they should be taken by the country offering the closest safe port. However, following this deal, Italy decided not to send any assets to the Nautilus IV mission.

During the meeting with the Mr Besson, Dr Mifsud Bonnici also discussed Malta's bid to host the EU's Asylum Agency.

A decision should be taken by EU leaders at the end of the year.

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