Malta’s Prime Minister said that the safety and comfort of the Maltese and Gozitan people come before anything else when it comes to the topic of migration, while giving no answers as to whether he would hold a referendum over whether Malta should rescue migrants in Maltese waters.
During an interview with Lovin Malta, Robert Abela said that he would not “tolerate” a situation where Maltese people became too scared to walk in their own streets. His comments come as over 40,000 people signed a petition calling for Malta to close its ports to migrants arriving here by sea from Libya.
“This is not a question of racism – we can’t let our people become scared to walk in their own streets,” Abela said today.
“I am the Prime Minister of the Maltese and Gozitans and protecting them is my first priority,” he continued. “Other things like integration and integrating people we are hosting in our country is important, but the first priority is to make sure that the Maltese people are comfortable in their streets and in their homes.”
Abela gave no answer when asked about a potential referendum stemming from the parliamentary petition.
Just last week, a number of mayors, including the mayor of Ħamrun, complained about the lack of a plan the government seems to have on migration. However, Abela said he disagreed with the mayors’ views, and had even spoken to them since they made their comments publicly.
“I understand what the mayors are saying – I don’t agree, but I understand the sense of sadness that might be there in some localities,” Abela said. “I understand the sentiment, and I understand the pain as well.”
“The subject of immigration is a sensitive one, and it hasn’t always been treated with the seriousness it deserves. There’s no doubt that in our country there’s a disproportionate weight being placed on our people,” he said.
“As a government, we have done everything we can, and from last January, we began focusing on completing some serious work. The reality is though, that our country is tied to international conventions, and these cannot be ignored.”
Abela went on to explain that the government’s strategy is split into two: trying to minimise the number of boats leaving Libya through cooperation with international forces and the Libyan government, and secondly, verifying if ships are truly in distress. If they are not in distress, Malta has no legal obligation to rescue them, he said.
He also said he continues to seek a better form of relocation – that is, housing migrants that arrive in Malta in other EU member states – but that it is an ongoing discussion,
“Let’s discuss this subject, and see what our limitations are and what plans we can have long term,” he said. “The reality is, there are ships from Libya coming to Malta or Italy. As a fact, we have been able to control the situation, but you can have boats that end up in a life or death situation. Our forces do everything we can to coordinate rescues, not undergo rescues but coordinate them. The message I want to send to our security forces is to keep up the good work and ensure our people continue to feel safe to walk in the streets of Malta.”