Malta ready to act as a bridge between Libya and EU

Malta was ready to act as a bridge between Libya and the European Union (EU) to address the problem of illegal migration, Prime Minister Robert Abela said last night.

He said his lightning visit to the war-torn country on Thursday confirmed that Libya was facing its own migration problems with an influx of migrants from neighboring countries which were also facing their difficulties.

Abela met Fayez al-Sarraj, prime minister of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), in Tripoli. The two government heads discussed the need to push the EU to help Libya to train its coastguard, obtain funding for reception camps manned by the UN, as well as to build a realistic strategy to slow down the flow of migrants into Libya.

Al-Sarraj told Abela that Libya had around 800,000 migrants to deal with.

Referring to his visit, Abela said the two countries had agreed to set up specialized units to better coordinate operations against irregular migration. These centers are expected to start operating within the coming weeks.

According to Abela, the solution lies in concrete action on Libyan shores and its southern border. This would be done through addressing and stopping human trafficking, rather than focusing on the relocation of migrants to other countries.

“Previous local and foreign administrations have always tackled the migration problem on a boat-by-boat basis but we are looking at solving the issue in a holistic manner,” he said, adding that the government had already sent out a clear message in keeping migrants aboard commissioned out at sea. There are some 425 migrants on four tourist vessels just outside Malta’s territorial waters where Malta is keeping them there until a proper solution is found to the illegal migration.

“We have saved lives and saved people from drowning, but we have also given a message that Malta cannot bring in more people,” he said.