Tuesday

26th Oct 2021

Malta asylum drop linked with Italy oil deal?

  • Around 100 people disembarking from the north African coast landed in Malta this year (Photo: Berit Watkin)

Moored in Malta’s capital city Valletta, Britain’s former naval assault flagship makes an imposing figure.

In a backdrop of clear blue skies and limestone walls bathed in Mediterranean sun, the HMS Bulwark arrived on the eve of a summit dedicated to stopping people from leaving the African continent to the EU.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The British Albion-class ship is credited with rescuing around 3,000 migrants in the Mediterranean as part of the EU’s Triton mission.

But the discussions taking place between 63 African and EU leaders at a nearby former hospital appear more concerned with keeping migrants at bay.

As international media attempt to make sense of why so many people risk their lives to enter the EU, local media in Malta are speculating on why so few land on the island.

Out of the 142,000 people who disembarked from the north African coast since the start of the year, only around a 100 landed in Malta.

Located south of Sicily, Malta is the closest EU member state to the Libyan coast. Malta has a search and rescue zone that spans 250,000 km sq between Sicily and Libya.

Katrine Camilleri, Malta director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, told this website on Wednesday (11 November) that the reason why Malta sees so few arrivals “is clearly not a coincidence”.

“It is clear Italy has agreed to take almost all of the migrants rescued on this route. This agreement clearly ‘benefits’ Malta in the sense it achieves the objective of having fewer arrivals,” she said.

Camilleri noted that Maltese centres for arriving migrants are almost empty.

Although few people aspire to go to Malta, for fear of getting trapped on the island, the dramatic drop in arrivals from previous years is raising questions in Maltese press and one Italian MEP.

The UN agency for refugees (UNHCR) registered 2,008 arrivals in Malta in 2013. Last year, it dropped to 568 and this year it is only 104.

Oil explanation?

In September, Malta’s opposition leader Simon Busuttil demanded if Malta’s government had cut an oil exploration deal with the Italians in exchange for taking in Malta-bound arrivals.

The question comes in the context of an old maritime dispute.

Italy and Malta have been at odds over their respective search and rescue zones. The two overlap in some parts, which complicates territorial claims on oil exploration.

A few years ago, Italy tried to expand its economic zone into an area where Malta was preparing oil exploration.

But Malta didn’t want to budge despite Italian pressure.

The search and rescue zones are important because if the oil dispute ends up in an internatioanl tribunal, it’s likely to rule in favour of the party responsible for security in the territory.

Earlier this month, Malta’s former prime minister Lawrence Gonzi in an interview with The Times of Malta raised the same question.

“I refuse to speculate, but for years Italy had been making demands on a number of things we never accepted, mostly related to oil exploration,” he said.

In October, Italian centre-right MEP Elisabetta Gardini also asked the European Commission to explain the low arrival numbers in Malta.

She is still awaiting a reply.

But Malta’s government, for its part, denies any such deal exists.

"It is totally false. What we are doing with Italy is a joint-collaboration rather than fight out at sea and huge diplomatic disputes, we are working together and it's reaping the results,” Malta's prime minster Joseph Muscat said in Valletta on Wednesday, when asked about the supposed deal.

EU states want more Belarus sanctions

EU heads of state and government on Friday, at a summit in Brussels, demanded more sanctions against Belarus "as a matter of urgency" and want the European Commission to tweak rules governing borders to tackle "state-sponsored smuggling".

Analysis

Commissions's new migration pact still seeking 'landing zone'

Last October, the European Commission gave an optimistic outlook on the adoption of its migration and asylum pact. EU commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas said its pact on migration was lowering the landing gear - suggesting agreement was possible.

Poland doubles troop numbers on Belarus border

Poland doubled the number of troops to 6,000 on its Belarus border, amid an ongoing standoff with stranded migrants - at least seven of whom have died as temperatures start to plummet.

Opinion

Frontex: An EU agency gone rogue?

In a Kafka-esque irony, Frontex is withholding public access to documents pertaining to the response of a public institution to a protest by members of the public on grounds that this would violate the "public interest".

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew report reveals bad environmental habits
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImproving the integration of young refugees
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNATO Secretary General guest at the Session of the Nordic Council
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCan you love whoever you want in care homes?
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNineteen demands by Nordic young people to save biodiversity
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable public procurement is an effective way to achieve global goals

Latest News

  1. How to break the political deadlock on migration
  2. Hedegaard on the hazards of stalling climate action
  3. Belarus exiles in EU fear regime-linked murderers
  4. No place for Polish 'war' rhetoric, Commission says
  5. Nine countries oppose EU gas market reform
  6. EU-UK impasse on top court in post-Brexit customs talks
  7. Erdoğan orders out US and EU ambassadors
  8. EU banks play 'major role' in deforestation, report finds

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us