Updated 6.40pm with Foreign Ministry pledge
The government will be lifting the Ukraine travel ban for those seeking asylum in Malta but those with nowhere to isolate will still have to pay €100 for every night they spend in the quarantine hotel.
Health Minister Chris Fearne made the announcement on Tuesday afternoon as Russia continued to attack Ukrainian cities, killing hundreds of civilians.
"The situation is terrible. Personally but also as a government and as a nation, we express solidarity. Ukraine is on the dark red list and people from these zones can only come over if they are residents or have work permits.
"Now, we will also be accepting those who have relatives in Malta and all those looking for asylum in Malta. They must quarantine as per the rules in place," Fearne said.
But when asked whether the asylum seekers will have to pay for quarantine, after Times of Malta was earlier told by the tourism authorities the quarantine hotel fees would not be waived, Fearne ignored the question.
Instead, he said those coming here will likely have a place to stay and will, therefore, not need to make use of the hotel.
"Like I said, we will be making an exception. Where we can identify an address, we will make sure there is an alternative address so these people can quarantine there," he said.
Foreign Ministry offers to cover quarantine costs
Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo later said that his ministry would cover quarantine costs for asylum seekers.
"We have a special fund to pay the bill for those who have to quarantine in a hotel. These are people fleeing from a cruel war," he wrote on his official Facebook page, in an apparent split from the Health Ministry's official stance.
The press conference was held remotely and journalists were immediately put on mute after asking their questions. Times of Malta attempted to ask a follow-up question to clarify the issue but was not allowed to switch the microphone back on by the minister's staff.
Meanwhile, asked whether Malta would be considering suspending the passports scheme for Russian applicants, Fearne again did not comment.
Instead, he said: "As far as I know, we do not have any of [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s friends applying for passports and Alex Muscat has spoken about this and I have nothing to add."
Earlier on Tuesday, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said Europe "can no longer sell passports to Putin's friends allowing them to circumvent our security".
Dark red status
Ukraine is technically still on Malta's list of countries designated as 'dark red' for COVID-19 purposes, meaning travel to and from that country is banned except for exceptional circumstances and only on prior authorisation.
Fearne's announcement lifts that travel ban, while maintaining the quarantine requirement.
Ukrainians living in Malta have said that the travel ban was making it impossible for relatives fleeing the war-torn state to enter Malta.
Ukrainian-born Nadiya Attard, who has been living in Malta for 17 years, described the nail-biting tension since Russia attacked Ukraine last week.
A few weeks ago, she had asked her elderly parents, Volodymyr and Lyudmyla, her sister, Oleksandra and her six-year-old nephew, Robert to come to Malta for a few weeks until the situation settled.
Back then, Russian troops were still lining the Ukraine border. But her family – like many others – did not believe there would be an attack and refused to come.
“On Thursday morning, my husband woke me up at 5.30 to tell me Ukraine was being bombed. I called my family. They live on the west side in a place called Uzhhorod. I wanted them out of there,” she says.
She managed to persuade them to leave and head for Hungary. They have managed to cross the border despite their car breaking down on the way.
With the help of colleagues in Hungary, Attard has managed to find them a rental apartment as all hotels are taken up by people fleeing Ukraine.
When she contacted the local authorities asking for her family to be able to come to Malta and quarantine at her house, she was told to apply for a standard exemption.
Eventually, she convinced her family to head to Cyprus.
“My mother resisted. She wanted to go back home to Ukraine. She was worried because they had left everything as was and just left with a few belongings and their important documents.
“She was also worried because she had left the soup in the fridge,” she smiled affectionately.