A suggestion floated by Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini for migrants’ asylum applications to be processed at sea will not be entertained by the government, sources have told The Sunday Times of Malta.

Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini. Photo: ReutersItalian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini. Photo: Reuters

The right-wing minister from Italy was joined by his Austrian counterpart in calling on the EU to hold rescued migrants at sea until their asylum claims are processed.

The idea was put forward at an EU migration conference in Vienna late last week, attended by Malta’s Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia.

Outlining the proposal at a joint news conference, Mr Salvini and Austrian Minister for the Interior Herbert Kickl said that after “appropriate checks” on board ship, migrants entitled to asylum could be brought to the EU while the rest would be taken to ports in third countries.

“You are well looked after on a ship,” Mr Kickl said, adding that the system would help solve the “problem of repatriation”.

“Once people have set foot on the continent, you can only remove them with great difficulty and much expense,” Mr Salvini told reporters.

Government sources yesterday said suggestions of this nature were not a solution to the problems facing the Mediterranean. 

They said that during the migration conference Mr Salvini had lashed out at Malta, criticising it for not taking in migrants that travelled through waters under the island’s responsibility.

Government sources said suggestions being put forward by Mr Salvini were not being taken too seriously. Describing diplomatic ties between the two countries on the issue of migration as “fraught”, the sources said finding common ground was seeming “increasingly unlikely”. 

This proposal is simply another attempt to distract attention from the real issue- Médecins Sans Frontières

Mr Salvini hit the headlines during the migration conference after he compared African refugees to slaves that were flooding Europe’s jobs market.

Meanwhile, medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières has condemned the idea of processing migrants while at sea.

“This proposal is simply another attempt to distract attention from the real issue, namely the inability of Europe and of Austria’s EU presidency to find a sustainable solution to the humanitarian crisis in the central Mediterranean and Libya,” the group said in a statement.

The UN says that more than 1,600 people have lost their lives trying to cross into Europe in 2018, despite overall numbers being down.

In July, 450 migrants were allowed to disembark in Sicily once France, Germany, Portugal, Spain and Malta had all agreed to take 50 migrants each.


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