Government rebuts Italian NGO report on immigration
Ivan Camilleri in Brussels
The Times of London
July 25, 2007
The government yesterday reacted strongly to a report published by the Italian Refugee Council (CIR) on the recent incidents in the Mediterranean involving illegal immigrants and accused the NGO of writing “a series of inaccurate statements” and of making “false accusations”.
In its report, CIR accused Malta and Libya of adopting an attitude that is “putting lives at risk”.
It particularly referred to a case involving “27 persons clinging to a fish pen belonging to a Maltese trawler in Libyan SAR waters for three days” and “26 people saved by Spanish fishing boat Monfalco in Libyan SAR waters but refused disembarkation in Malta”.
In a strongly-worded letter to the chairman of the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament, where, according to the government, the report first surfaced, Malta's Permanent Representative to the EU, Richard Cachia Caruana, rejected the accusations made.
Mr Cachia Caruana wrote that although CIR rightly praised the efforts by the Italian and Spanish authorities with regard to illegal immigration, Malta was completely left out.
“Unfortunately, the CIR report omits any positive reference to Maltese efforts notwithstanding the fact that Malta's search and rescue services have saved or brought ashore 478 persons in 19 separate incidents in the month of June alone.”
On the so-called tuna pen incident, the government said the Italian report is loaded with inaccuracies.
Mr Cachia Caruana said it is not true that immigrants spent three days on board the pen, that the Italian coast guard called twice, that “the Maltese authorities denied the incident” and that there was a standoff between Malta and Libya as alleged by the Italian NGO.
“The information and assurance being given by Libya did not warrant a standoff because at no point did Libya say it will not cooperate,” Mr Cachia Caruana wrote.
“The fact that Libya did not respond as promised is something the Maltese authorities don't have any sort of control over.”
The allegations made by CIR in connection with the Spanish boat Montfalco were also dismissed by the government.
“The view that these persons had to be brought to Malta, which was neither responsible for the search and rescue region nor geographically closer to the location of the incident, is erroneous and has no basis at law,” the government said.
Mr Cachia Caruana called baseless the accusations made by the Italian NGO that Malta is putting lives at risk and causing unnecessary suffering to people in distress at sea.
“Malta has always complied with international obligations. Moreover, it should be noted in this regard that both the Budafel (tuna pen incident) and Montfalco cases took place on the high seas outside the Malta search and rescue region. Thus, other states can be deemed to bear similar responsibility either as flag state of the vessel involved or due to the fact that they represent the closest disembarkation point”.
Mr Cachia Caruana concluded: “At this juncture we need to ensure that, for the benefit of all, we focus on constructive efforts. What are needed are initiatives that are not aimed at shifting the blame but at sharing the burden”.