Libya ‘stopped 2,000 from reaching Malta’

FILE PHOTO: A boat used by migrants is seen near the western town of Sabratha, Libya March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny/File Photo

Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo expressed his gratitude to the Libyan government for its efforts to stop asylum seekers from crossing over to Europe, stating that the Libyan Coastguard stopped 2,000 people from making it to Malta this year.

Bartolo was asked to comment on the recent agreement reached between Malta and Libya by Labour MP Jean Claude Micallef, and noted that while the measures agreed upon still needed to be implemented, the Libyan government had stepped up its efforts.

He said that the country’s coastguard intercepted approximately 4,300 people on their way to Europe, of which some 2,000 would be headed in Malta. Without Libya’s help, he said, the number of asylum seekers reaching Malta in the first four months of this year would have been equivalent to the number recorded throughout 2019.

The minister welcomed Libya’s decision to step up efforts against human traffickers, whilst emphasising that Libya lacked enough resources to patrol its vast coast, as well as its southern border.

But he insisted that the EU should strive to help asylum seekers’ countries of origin. Europe, he said, readily imported raw materials from Africa but made it difficult for African countries to export processed goods and thus develop their economy.

Covid-19 may speed up migration

In response to a question by Anthony Agius Decelis, the minister also warned that the Covid-19 pandemic may lead to increased numbers of African immigrants seeking to reach Europe, stating that the “most moderate scenarios” would leave around 27 million people in extreme poverty in countries of origin.

Additionally, he pointed out, the pandemic would also reduce job opportunities in transit countries such as North Africa, constraining them to continue travelling.

Bartolo also remarked on the historic irony of people leaving North Africa for Malta to seek a better life, when Maltese people used to head in the opposite direction for the same reason. Tens of thousands of Maltese emigrants had moved to North Africa in the 19th and 20th centuries, creating Maltese communities in various cities in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.