Minister bides time to avoid answering questions on offshore detention

Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri has avoided answering a couple of parliamentary questions on the controversial detention of asylum seekers on pleasure craft by simply waiting until the practice was ended before answering.

Among the list of parliamentary questions answered today were five concerning the offshore detention, of which three were asked by Nationalist MP Jason Azzopardi and two were made by Carm Mifsud Bonnici. Azzopardi had made his questions on 25 May while Mifsud Bonnici’s questions date back to 4 June, a few days before the practice was stopped in the wake of unrest on one of the four boats leased by the government.

Camilleri only provided a definite answer to one of Azzopardi’s questions, on the quotations obtained by the government from pleasure boat operators.

The only two companies which provided quotations were the two companies whose services were used. Captain Morgan, which ended up providing three ships for the controversial practice, quoted a rate of €3,000 per day, while Supreme Cruises, which ended up providing the fourth vessel, quoted €6,500 a day. Two other companies, Camilleri revealed, did not provide a quotation as they were not interested.

Both PN MPs asked Camilleri similar questions on other costs incurred during the offshore detention of asylum seekers, but Camilleri referred them to a prior parliamentary question. Though this is normally done when the information sought has already been provided in another answer, however, the question he referred to simply stated that “the answer will be given in another sitting;” it is unclear why the minister chose not to provide this answer directly this time round.

But Azzopardi also made a question about living conditions on board the pleasure craft, asking how many cabins which could sleep people could be found on the boats. On his part, Mifsud Bonnici questioned the legal position the detainees found themselves in.

However, by waiting before answering, Camilleri could answer both questions simply by stating that at present, no people were being detained offshore at the government’s request.