The number of migrants arriving in Malta by boat skyrocketed following unrest in Libya, with the number reaching 1,455 last year compared to 23 in 2017.

Statistics by immigration police show that boat arrivals decreased drastically from 2015 (104 people) to 2016 (25 people), but shot up last year.

Almost a quarter of the arrivals were children (23 per cent), with 65 per cent of those arrivals being unaccompanied minors, data provided by immigration police showed.

The figures, published by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, provide a snapshot of the situation of migration since 2018. During the past year, Malta has been a protagonist of several stand-offs with Italy over taking in rescue vessels stuck at sea.

The burden-sharing system adopted by Malta in several ad-hoc agreements has “resulted a lot of anxiety,” European Asylum Support Office interim leader Jamil Addou said.

Malta and Italy have both shut their ports to a number of NGO ships. This has resulted in some rescue vessels being unable to save lives fleeing persecution in Libya.

Most of the nationalities arriving to Malta were Sudanese (28 per cent) and Bangladeshi (17 per cent), the figures show.

Speaking during a debate on migration at Europe house, Integra’s Maria Pisani said the results highlighted that people will move “as long as there is desperation”.

In a press conference prior to the debate, the UNHCR called for responsible rhetoric and constructive dialogue on migration in the run-up to the European elections in three weeks’ time.

The latest Eurobarometer polls show the vast majority of Maltese once again listed migration as the top-most concern at EU level.

During the debate, UNHCR representative to Malta Kahin Ismail said it was “quite understandable” that communities may have apprehensions and anxieties about newcomers. It was also understandable that people would feel concerned over the government’s plans for migrants’ integration, he added.

Faced with domestic pressure, including the upcoming MEP elections, countries have taken a stronger stance on migration, Mr Addou added.

“It is the responsibility of all of us, and particularly elected officials, political parties and prospective candidates to use responsible rhetoric when discussing issues of migration, asylum and refugees, because words matter and they do impact the various communities in Malta,” Mr Ismail said.

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