The success of a Common European Asylum System depended to a considerable extent, on the European Union's readiness to assist member states in difficulty, Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici said this evening.
Closing a regional seminar "Europe's new Mediterranean reality: Migration and asylum in Malta, Greece and Cyprus", he said
"The expression of concrete solidarity is indeed the appropriate way forward - a point that our respective countries have repeatedly stressed. It is now important for us to continue to act on the basis of this principle."
The seminar, a joint initiative of the European Parliament offices in Malta, Greece and Cyprus, was held at Dar l-Ewropa in St Paul Street, Valletta.
The keynote address was delivered by Brigadier Martin Xuereb.
He stressed that Malta never failed to respond to any distress, possible distress or situation where uncertainty existed as to the status of migrants traveling by sea.
"If assistance is required, we will do everything to make sure assistance is provided in the timeliest manner possible.
"Suffice it to say that, up to this morning, RCC Malta has coordinated or assisted in 54 SAR cases this year alone, the object of which was to assist migrants in distress."
Although Malta has been criticised that it is unable to honour its SAR obligations and that, in some cases, it failed to respond to calls for assistance, this was not the case.
"The AFM is equipped, trained and capable of honouring all of Malta's international obligations in the field of SAR and our response to any and all SAR cases is prompt and decisive regardless of whom we are trying to save."
Brig. Xuereb pointed out it was true that when it came to understanding certain aspects of SAR obligations, Malta had some differences with others but these related solely to the disembarkation of persons once these were rescued.
"There are absolutely no differences about the fact that the preservation of human life is the paramount consideration.
"We all agree that we cannot allow anything to detract from this effort."
He underlined that the cooperation with the country's neighbours, particularly Italy, "with whom we share a special bond, is of a quality that we are rightfully proud of".
The Italian Air Force helicopters flying with joint Italo-Maltese crews based in Malta represented a critical capability that was regularly deployed in support of SAR missions to save lives, he said.
Brig. Xuereb said that Malta had consistently insisted that the arrangement that best represented the interests of rescued persons was one that saw them disembarked in the nearest place of safety.
It was inappropriate that, from time to time, some felt it appropriate to lay the blame for tragedies at the door of those very countries and agencies which were making significant efforts to preserve human life, he said.
On Frontex operations, in which the AFM has been taking part since 2007, Brig. Xuereb said that Malta had consistently objected to the guidelines for the conduct of Frontex joint operations on a number of grounds, including the fact that they addressed matters deemed to be outside community competence and attempted to erode the rights that Malta enjoyed under the international legal framework.
Malta also considered that they did not represent the optimal solution insofar as the interests of rescued persons were concerned.
In light of these guidelines, Malta considered the hosting of joint operations to be detrimental to its national interest.
Closing the seminar, Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici gave an overview of what Malta has been doing over the years.
On recent developments, he said that the Libyan crisis resulted in the arrival of 1, 530 irregular migrants between March 28 and June 2.
Although at face value the figure may appear insignificant, the number had to be seen against the background of Malta's reality as the smallest EU state and the one with the highest population density figure.
Prior to these arrivals, Malta had already been hosting 1,738 beneficiaries of international protection.
"It is expected, considering prima facie eligibility to international protection among those arriving this year, that the number of beneficiaries of international protection would increase to 2,700," he said.
The minister insisted that Malta's particular circumstances, difficulties and limitations required the assistance of other countries.
The US, he said, had, since 2007 resettled 711 beneficiaries. Malta also received assistance through the EU Pilot Project for the Intra-EU Resettlement of Beneficiaries of International Protection, which so far led to the resettlement of 227 beneficiaries, including 95 to France and 102 to Germany.
In recognition of the need to do more, the EU Justice and Home Affairs Council last April welcomed the EuropeanCommission's intention to extend the project.
Following a pledging conference in May, 11 EU states, as well as Norway and Switzerland, agreed to take part in the project. The pledges so far amounted to some 400, including the 150 placements offered by Germany.
Although Malta was grateful to the participating states, the participation of more states would have made the project more truly European in scope.
"Furthermore, additional efforts are still required to concretely alleviate the situation in Malta, not only to Malta's benefit, but also to the benefit of the beneficiaries of international protection themselves," he said.