Maltese Government in agreement with a number of European countries to relocate 284 immigrants from Malta

284 immigrants will be transferred towards the EU member states in a relocation exercise co-ordinated by the European Commission.

A Government statement said that negotiations for the relocation began when Maltese ports were closed during the public health emergency. As a result of this, the Government held a number of immigrants on boats just off Maltese territory for a number of weeks.

The Government continued saying that the decision by Malta to keep the immigrants on these boats was taken during the height of the pandemic when the country could not offer a safe port for people who were arriving irregularly by sea. This was also done in the light of the pressures on our immigration centres, including the largest one which was closed because it was on quarantine.

The statement added that Malta was not the only Mediterranean country which used boats in this way, as other member states took initiatives to halt the spread of the pandemic in their immigration centres.

The Maltese Government has begun the process for the first group of 204 immigrants to be relocated to other countries. In the case of the other 80 immigrants, there is a political commitment between Malta and the member states concerned which will be monitored by the European Commission.

Apart from the work for the immigrants to be relocated, the Government said that it has also begun working so that immigrants whose countries are considered safe can have their asylum request processed more quickly. This is being done so that the Maltese authorities can be in a better possession for the procedure to be completed to send these people back to their country of origin.

This operation, intended to avoid risks linked to public health, has cost around €1.7 million and the Maltese Government is still holding talks to obtain European funds. The Government ensured that medical testing was carried out on all immigrants on board the ships, and that no immigrant tested positive for COVID-19.

Every decision taken at the time reflected the urgency fo the situation. The leasing of the ships came to €363,440 which consisted of €3,000 daily for the Captain Morgan ships and €6,500 for a Supreme Travel vessel.  Two other companies were contacted, however they are not interested in providing the service.

Apart from this, the supplies and services linked to this operation came to €212, 646.12.  To this end, 33 different companies and business were engaged to provide food and drink, sanitary products, clothes and other items.

The lease of the boats to delivery the supplies came to €87,741 while €10,908.12 were spent on disembarkation procedures.

Because of the nature of the operation the Government said that the presence of security 24/7 was essential. There were an average of 12 security officials on duty at all times of the day for seven days a week. More than 33,000 hours of security resulted in an expenditure of one million Euro. The security company was chosen because at the time the operation started, it was offering services to the Marsa Initial Reception Centre, therefore the Government said, it could provide its service in the shortest time possible.

The Government added that this operation was essential at an extraordinary moment when there was a public health emergency and every decision was taken in the interest of people’s health and the national interest. The Government said that the importance of this initiative was necessary when one considers that there were irregular immigrants who arrived in different parts of the Mediterranean who had tested positive for  COVID-19.  Ultimately, the operation led to a message to European countries and the international community that Malta cannot be left alone to face this problem. Proof of this, the statement added, was the relocation of a substantial number of immigrants who will no longer remain Malta’s responsibility.

The Government will remain committed to relocation being the main principle of European policy, especially at this important moment when the European Immigration and Asylum Pact is being discussed.  At the same time, it said that Malta will continue working with Libya to address this challenge and avoid as much as possible the lose of lives in the Mediterranean, while fighting human trafficking.