Malta has applied for EU funding to help pay for housing migrants aboard tourist boats out at sea, but it may be denied money until it can find a legal way for people aboard to apply for asylum.
A European Commission spokesperson told Times of Malta that it was examining a funding request made by Malta to help pay for food, medical aid and registration of those aboard the Europa II tourist boat.
The spokesperson did not say how much funding Malta had requested.
Fifty-six migrants rescued at sea are currently aboard the tourist vessel, which the Maltese government has chartered for use as a temporary offshore holding station. A second such boat, the Bahari, has also been chartered for the same purpose.
EU funds to help pay for the operation would come from the EU’s Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund (AMIF). As of April, Malta still had just over €10 million of its AMIF allocation available for use.
The Europa II is just outside territorial waters, with Malta telling the EU that a relocation deal must be agreed upon before the migrants can be disembarked ashore.
EU asylum rules
Funding requests must, however, comply with all legal conditions, including a requirement that people on board have access to asylum procedure in line with EU law.
The EU Commission spokesperson clarified that “this is also related to the place where the activity would take place, as EU asylum law does not apply in international waters.”
The Commission is looking into the issue “as a matter of urgency”, the spokesperson added.
Asylum applications must be lodged within EU territory for them to be recognised by the EU. While borders and transit zones are considered to be part of a country’s territory for asylum application purposes, international waters, which do not fall under any country’s jurisdiction, are not.
'This is not just Malta's problem'
A government spokesperson told Times of Malta, however, that it would "continue to insist that this initiative will be funded by the European Union.
"Malta, the smallest member state, is facing disproportionate pressures and has enormous challenges related to the protection of the EU's southern borders, which it is dealing with. Therefore, it will continue to reiterate the importance of EU solidarity. This is not just Malta's problem, it's Europe's problem," the spokesperson said.
Malta has repeatedly insisted on the need for the EU and its larger member states to do more to help border countries like Malta cope with the influx of migrants, noting that many relocation pledges are never fulfilled and that the EU has, over the past 15 years, taken in fewer asylum seekers from Malta than the USA.
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