Foreign Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo has played down calls for the government to rent out hotel rooms or cruise liners so as to house irregular migrants.
“Some have asked us why we aren’t renting out currently empty hotels or cruise liners and filling them with irregular migrants to whom human traffickers had charged €600 to bring to Malta,” Bartolo said on Facebook. “However, will the hotels and cruise liners remain empty and unused forever? What will happen when their owners want to return to the state they were in prior to the coronavirus pandemic?”
“Even if the regular migrants remain there, at what point will we tell them to stop coming here? How long will they stay in hotel rooms and cruise liners before other countries take them?”
Opposition MP Beppe Fenech Adami recently proposed that the government rent out hotel rooms and alternative accommodations to house migrants who live at the overcrowded Ħal Far open centre, where the COVID-19 coronavirus has struck and which is currently under quarantine.
Bartolo published a Facebook post a day after news emerged that five migrants who had been left stranded in Malta’s search and rescue region had died.
The other people on board are set to return to Libya after being picked up by a Libyan vessel, which was alerted to their exact position by Malta’s Armed Forces.
Activists have warned the Maltese government is to blame for the deaths of these five people, having recently closed its ports to irregular migrants to combat the spread of COVID-19.
However, Bartolo argued that Malta had its back against the wall and had received no tangible help from fellow EU member states.
“We took in 66 irregular migrants last week and asked EU member states to shoulder some of the responsibility. So far, Portugal promised to take in six of them, Luxembourg and Ireland told us they won’t be able to pitch in because they were already taking in children form a Greek migrant centre, and the other EU member states combined promised to take in 389 migrants.”
However, none of these countries have taken in migrants from Malta so far.
He noted that Malta took in 4,491 irregular migrants between March 2019 and March 2020, which is proportionately equivalent to Italy, France or Germany taking in 100,000 migrants over that time period.
“Yesterday, I spoke with the European Commission, the Vatican and the United Nations, and they all understand our position. They all say it’s unfair that we’ve been left alone to shoulder a responsibility that we definitely can’t shoulder by ourselves. In the meantime, we’re still alone and in an impossible situation.”
Cover photo: Left: Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo, Right: Migrants at the quarantined Ħal Far open centre