MEP Miriam Dalli on Tuesday defended voting in favour of an amendment in the European Parliament urging states to rescue migrants in distress and provide disembarkation facilities for them.
Writing on Facebook, Dalli said that she believed Malta had always respected its international humanitarian obligations when it came to saving lives at sea, and insisted that by voting in favour of the amendment she was not taking a voting line that ran contrary to the government’s position.
The amendment was one of a list of 80 concerning the EU’s role in managing the COVID-19 outbreak. It was presented by the European United Left–Nordic Green Left called on member states to “abide by their obligation under international law to assist ships in distress”.
The amendment called on member states to “provide a place for disembarkation for people saved at sea, including by civil society boats and merchant vessels.”
The amendment was voted down by MEPs, with Malta's representatives assuming contrasting positions.
Dalli, who serves as a vice-president of the S&D grouping, voted in favour of it. The PN's two MEPs Roberta Metsola and David Casa voted against it. Alfred Sant and Josianne Cutajar both abstained from the vote.
The amendment would have been very harmful to Malta - Agius Saliba
Labour's Alex Agius Saliba voted against the amendment and was the only one of the S&D political grouping to do so.
He insisted that the amendment, had it been approved, would have been very harmful to Malta, even though the country was not mentioned. Malta would have ended up becoming a refugee hub in the centre of the Mediterranean.
What this amendment meant was that despite the COVID crisis, Malta would have been forced to accept up to a million migrants currently in Libya waiting to cross to Europe, he said. He was pleased that the attempt by some MEPs to impose this heavy burden on Malta had failed.
When contacted, both Metsola and Casa said the amendment had no place being in the final text.
This amendment, they said, would have excluded the option for people to be saved at sea, medical cases addressed but kept in quarantine aboard a vessel to address COVID concerns- which is an option that has been used by other frontline states.
"It puts the onus totally on EU Member States while excluding safe third countries from also playing their part. It is a far-left amendment that had no place in the text."
"The PN delegation’s position has always been totally consistent - save lives and have an all-encompassing migration policy - fair with those in need of protection, firm with those who do not and strong with those abusing of the most vulnerable on our planet. Labour’s policy remains anyone’s guess, it changes according to who speaks,” they said in a joint reply.
Earlier this month Malta followed in Italy’s footsteps and declared its ports unsafe for migrant disembarkation due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Since then at least five migrants died on board a boat that was found drifting in Malta’s search and rescue area.
The matter is the subject of a criminal investigation.