Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri has doubled down on a statement he made last week that NGO rescue boats are a pull factor for migrants looking to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
“When I said that I believe that NGOs at sea are a pull factor I think I was right,” Camilleri said on Thursday.
Camilleri first made the statement as he reacted to a decree issued by the Italian government which features measures to fine NGOs that rescue migrants at sea and impound their ships.
Asked on Thursday by a Malta Independent journalist if the Maltese government would follow suit, Camilleri said that the government had always been clear in its policy towards irregular migration and would keep implementing it.
“Our policy is as clear as day,” Camilleri said. “We believe in prevention, burden sharing and returning those who do not qualify for asylum.”
The new Italian policy will require rescue ships to seek harbour immediately after rescue, rather than staying at sea looking for other migrant boats in distress.
The policy shift was decried by 20 search and rescue NGOs in a joint statement. They said the price will be paid by people fleeing across the central Mediterranean and finding themselves in situations of distress.
Asked about his position on the matter, Camilleri defended the Italian government.
“Many say that NGOs are a pull factor. What Italy is doing is aimed at preventing NGOs from being a pull factor,” the home affairs minister said.
“We have an excellent relationship with the Italian government,” he added, saying that the two countries will continue cooperating to “combat illegal immigration”.
Times of Malta’s new fact-checking service found the statement that rescue boats are a pull factor to be mostly false, despite the claim also having been made by Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency in a 2017 report.
The overwhelming majority of research showed that the presence of NGO ships had little to no effect on the rate of migrant crossings.
Push factors such as worsening political and social situations in home countries were more powerful, and the rate of migrant crossings decreased sharply at times of poor weather.
Still, Camilleri doubled down on his statement on Thursday.
“Migrant crossings have increased in the last few years, just as NGOs have increased their presence on the seas,” he said.
A few days ago, there was a pause in crossings but it restarted as soon as NGO rescue operations were at sea, he said.
“As a government, we believe that NGOs in the area facilitate the business model of human traffickers”.
“We should all condemn human trafficking and emphasize that there are legal ways to migrate through travel visas” the minister insisted
On Wednesday Times of Malta reported that the Visa process in Southeast Asian countries takes up to two years.