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Malta to set up support centre in Libya to fight ‘illegal immigration’

Malta has signed an agreement with Libya to set up coordination centres in Tripoli and Valletta to help support efforts to combat “illegal immigration“.

The centres will “offer the necessary support relating to combatting illegal immigration in Libya and the Mediterranean region,” according to the memorandum of understanding signed by Malta and Libya’s UN-recognised unity government on May 28 and presented in Malta’s parliament on Wednesday.

The centres will be each manned by three officials and funded by Malta’s government. They will be “limited to support and coordination”, states the agreement, which is valid for three years.

Malta has long complained it is unable to accommodate the influx of migrants arriving in the small Mediterranean island from war-torn Libya.

Currently, more than 400 rescued migrants remain stranded on four tourist vessels chartered by Malta just outside Maltese territorial waters, awaiting entry to an EU port.

Maltese Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo told parliament on Wednesday that “the EU has a responsibility to reach a comprehensive agreement with Libya in order restrain irregular immigration.”

“The number of immigrants arriving in Malta is disproportionate compared to other European countries,” Bartolo said.

Since 2005, only 8 percent of irregular migrants in Malta have been relocated to other EU member states, according to Malta’s foreign affairs ministry.

‘Political negotiations’

The document states that Malta will propose to the European Commission an increase in financial support to help Libya’s unity government in securing its southern borders and dismantling human trafficking and organised crime networks.

Malta will also propose funding of “additional maritime assets necessary for the interception and follow-up of human trafficking activities in the search and rescue region in the Mediterranean basin.”

Both parties signed the agreement last week when a Maltese delegation including Bartolo and Prime Minister Robert Abela travelled to the Libyan capital.

Malta’s ports have been closed for over two months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Wednesday, humanitarian ocean rescue group SOS Mediterranee condemned what it called a lack of response from EU countries as the 400 migrants were stranded outside Malta.

“Instead of disembarking them in a safe place as international law requires, those rescued at sea are being used for political negotiations with EU member states,” the group said in a statement.

It warned of a “chaotic and deadly spiral” in the Mediterranean, with countries delaying, or failing to respond to distress signals from migrants at sea.

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