Pushback is never the solution to the migration problem, Adrian Delia said on Saturday, as he joined his voice to the government’s to call for European support.

Interviewed on Net TV by Brian Hansford, the Nationalist Party leader referred to the migration issue as “a time bomb that could turn into a humanitarian tragedy”.

The influx will not be abating anytime soon, and Europe should not delay support anymore, he said.

Delia said Malta could not take on more asylum seekers and detention centres were full beyond capacity. The problem was that the island had not yet convinced Europe to shoulder responsibility. 

“Europe needs to understand that the hundreds will increase to thousands of asylum seekers. How many thousands can our country host and for how long,” he asked, adding that Malta needed to keep piling up pressure on its European counterparts, “until they understand that Malta could not shoulder the burden on its own”.

He urged for unity on the issue. 

Asked for his opinion about pushback - returning migrants to Libya - Delia said he was against it in all circumstances, also because it was illegal.

The only short-term solution is for Europe to share responsibility and find safe land where the rescued people could disembark. In the long-term, human trafficking should be curbed through more effective penalties, such as having boats confiscated, he said.

There are currently 300 rescued people aboard three Captain Morgan ferries outside of Malta. Half have been kept there for weeks and the UN Refugee Agency and International Organisation for Migration calling on Malta and European states to bring them ashore.

Malta started hosting migrants aboard the tourist boats after it coordinated the return of a group of migrants to Libya, through the intervention of a fishing boat. Prime Minister Robert Abela had insisted that this was "not a pushback". 

So far this year, Malta has received just two offers from all other EU member states to take in migrants.

Foreign Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo has warned that Malta will not become Europe’s crisis centre for migrants.

Malta shut its ports to asylum seekers, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, in April.

Separately, an inquiry is under way into claims that Armed Forces of Malta soldiers “sabotaged” a migrant boat. The claims have been vehemently denied.

'Information about selection of police commissioner lacking'

Answering questions related to the appointment of the new police commissioner, Delia said Malta has seen six commissioner resignations in six years.

The latest one - Lawrence Cutajar – failed to carry out work that was expected of him, he said, adding that the Opposition’s proposal is for the police commissioner to be selected by a two-thirds parliamentary majority.  

“The government has instead built a scheme which seemed to imply the prime minister will not have a say in the selection process… but what kind of authority does a commissioner have if he is going to initially be on probation,” he asked, adding that information about the selection process was scarce.

Delia also deplored the decision of “disgraced former officers” who had thrown in their name in the hat for the selection of commissioner.

On Friday Times of Malta reported that former assistant police commissioner Mario Tonna, who stepped down in 2018 following a report of domestic abuse filed by his partner, is one of the contenders for the top post in the police force.

The new mechanism to appoint the police commissioner after a public call appears to tally with the specific recommendations found in a report by constitutional experts on what is known as the Venice Commission.

It has however been criticised by legal scholars such as Kevin Aquilina and judge Giovanni Bonello.

Currently, it is the prime minister’s sole prerogative to appoint the person who leads the police force. 

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