Bartolo insists NGOs should take rescued asylum seekers to their own countries

SeaWatch

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The charge that humanitarian NGOs involved in the rescue of migrants and asylum seekers in the Mediterranean are in cahoots with human traffickers is a popular one among far-right politicians, most notably Italy’s Matteo Salvini, but Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo has chosen to make it his own.

In one of his regular morning sermons on Facebook, Bartolo insisted that any such NGOs should take any rescued individuals to their country of origin, instead of expecting to disembark in Malta.

The minister insisted that they were seeking to rescue individuals before Libyan patrol boats could intercept them and take them back to Libya. He hailed the Libyan Coastguard for stopping some 3,500 people from reaching Europe, stating that this was done with the help of Maltese and Turkish efforts.

Any intercepted individuals would be detained, and Bartolo insisted that it was the EU’s duty to ensure that Libya’s detention centres were decent and treated detainees humanely. But in the meantime, the camps have earned particular notoriety: Pope Francis had recently described these camps as hellish. Additionally, in a leaked report, the EU had admitted that they were being run for profit, with detainees coerced into seeking funds to pay for their release.

The minister said that Malta was ready to do its part to rescue people from drowning, but insisted that it could not do more than it could handle.

He quoted an unnamed “very senior official in the European Commission,” who compared NGOs’ efforts to someone driving his car around and pretending it was an ambulance.

“And I replied: and then you bring everyone to my home and tell me it is a hospital, and that I should take them all in whether or not I can handle them,” he added.

His statement proved popular, with many supporters expressing anti-immigrant sentiments and a number peddling a petition to Parliament being heavily promoted by Neville Gafà, who earlier this week published years-old photos to back a spurious claim of collusion between rescue NGOs and traffickers.

Bartolo’s statement comes in the wake of an appeal by MEPs for the government to end a standoff which has seen a group of rescued asylum seekers stuck on a tanker for some 3 weeks.