Published: June 10, 2019
Last Wednesday, 370 migrants were brought onto Maltese soil, rescued by the Armed Forces of Malta.
It marked one of the busiest days for migrant arrivals in recent Maltese history. The AFM has yet again proved that it does not try to shirk its responsibility and is working to rescue people’s lives when they are in peril at sea.
A number of rescues have already been conducted this year by Malta and Italy, and while one would not expect the Mediterranean central route to open up to the extent it was at years ago, the situation in Libya could have an effect. The AFM has the experience to deal with this, however one hopes that they have the necessary resources.
Since last year, Malta was under flak from foreign entities, not least from certain elements within the Italian government, for not doing its duty and not taking in migrants. This is not the case when migrants are rescued from the perilous sea in Maltese waters, and last week’s rescue effort is evidence of that. Indeed the AFM deserves to be praised for its work. Whenever they are called upon to conduct rescues they do so.
The issues resulting in such accusations against Malta, where it was alleged that the government was not doing its part, was over migrants rescued out in open waters or close to the Libyan coast by NGOs. The NGOs would then request entry to either Malta or Italy, and on a number of occasions were refused until a group of states came together and agreed to divide the migrants between them. There are legal arguments made as to why both Malta and Italy were hesitant to allow them to dock, however the migrants themselves should not be the ones to suffer. NGOs have been accused of aiding human traffickers (which they deny), and contributing to the problem, however from the other end one could argue that without these NGOs, there would be more deaths out at sea
The NGOs also argue that Libya is not a safe country, and that their reasons for not heading to Libya are justified. Indeed the recent unrest in Libya this year has increased the strength of such arguments. This is a sensitive issue which needs to be better handled on an international level, but countries should not let their disagreements with the operation of NGOs be taken out on migrants who would have endured enough, by keeping them stranded on vessels in open waters for days on end.
While the migration crisis in the central Mediterranean is far less of a crisis today than it was years ago, the rise of extremist anti-migrant elements across Europe is on the rise, and Malta is not exempted from this situation. The recent murder of a migrant in Malta, and the arrest of two soldiers in conjunction, shows that this is the case. This is an issue that the Maltese government and civil society needs to work on, or more violence will follow.
If these two soldiers are found guilty, then the army would have outright failed in its assessment of these individuals’ mental state, having found them to be fit for duty. If that is the case, concerns about the rest of the AFM will surely spread. The AFM has done some good work, and it would be a shame to see its reputation tarnished due to the actions of a few. If they are found not guilty, then the army might be able to rest easier. Regardless, perhaps more rigorous assessments of potential recruits is needed at the very least as a precautionary measure.