Why this story matters:
Many in Malta observed the Italian elections with great concern. After the slowdown of irregular migration a new political rhetoric emerged promoting an inclusive, yet still exploitative, attitude towards foreigners. Now, a showdown over migrants at sea is fanning new flames of panic and exclusion.
Previous cases have ended with Malta only providing emergency services to the migrants, as Maltese officials cite international law and claim they bear no responsibility because Lampedusa (Italy) is closer. Italian politicians sound less official, as they criticize international NGOs and even God's will in placing the islands of Malta close to Africa.
As the Italian government is still "fresh" in office, more stand-offs are expected.
Internally, this situation may prompt more resistance to Malta's new inclusive policies towards migrants, or even a complete U-turn. Though the country's economic boom has absorbed many migrants, regular or not, into the labor force, current tensions may undo the progress made.
Details from the story:
- Italian authorities have asked Aquarius, a humanitarian ship carrying stranded migrants at sea, to remain in international waters and for the Maltese government to declare Malta as the safest port of call for the humanitarian ship.
- Italian Minister for the Interior Matteo Salvini, from the far-right Lega, insisted that Malta should take over 600 migrants rescued by the humanitarian ship Aquarius. Prime ministers of the two countries spoke on the phone.
- Maltese PM Joseph Muscat replied that saving lives is a priority. Malta agreed to emergency medical evacuations of those requiring urgent medical care for humanitarian reasons.
- As of Sunday evening the Aquarius was located outside Maltese territorial waters awaiting instructions on where to disembark the migrants. The map published by Malta Today shows that Lampedusa was the closest, safest port of call, if Libya is excluded.
- On Monday the ship was invited to dock at Valencia harbour. Malta prised medical supplies to the people on board.
- On the Friday before, another group arrived in Sicily after a diplomatic spat and the loss of one life.
- International law dictates that a country is obliged to coordinate rescue operations in its search and rescue area (SAR) but not necessarily take in the rescued people. Salvini was quoted as saying, “The Good Lord put Malta closer to African shores than Sicily… Malta cannot always say ‘no’ to any request to intervene [on migrant rescues].” Muscat was quoted as stating, "I won’t let the current situation fan flames of racism in our country."