Message from the Minister for Foreign and European Affairs Evarist Bartolo on the migration crisis in the Mediterranean

Reference Number: 14042020, Press Release Issue Date: Apr 14, 2020

As Europe battles the coronavirus crisis in hospitals throughout the continent, another major crisis is developing on Europe’s doorstep.
The conflict in Libya has been raging for a number of years now, and the coronavirus pandemic is further deteriorating the situation. 
In the middle of all this, there are hundreds of thousands of migrants in a very desperate situation - whereby attacks against them are increasing and access to food, shelter and healthcare are vanishing.
Migrant detention camps are full to the brim, and according to a number of credible reports there is a situation where tens of thousands of migrants are either escaping, or allowed to leave these camps. 
In this horrific context, there are all the ingredients for a major humanitarian disaster waiting to happen, as desperate people look at the Mediterranean Sea as their only escape. To make things more difficult, humanitarian assistance on the ground is decreasing due to the pandemic. 
The situation is further complicated as Italy, and sometime later Malta, have closed their ports since all resources, especially medical and those related to security, are being allocated to the mitigation and treatment of the coronavirus pandemic in our countries.
Per capita, Malta is facing a considerable threat from coronavirus and our limited medical and security resources are over-stretched.
In the past years, Malta has rescued thousands of people and went way beyond its legal rescue obligations to save every life. In a situation where demand for rescue increases exponentially because of more migrants leaving Libya and the supply side of our resources is substantially diminished, we find ourselves with a recipe for disaster.
The only sustainable and realistic option to avoid this humanitarian crisis and save lives of men, women and children is for Europe to launch an immediate humanitarian mission in Libya - providing food, medicines and healthcare equipment to Libyans and migrants living there. 
Alleviating and minimizing the difficult circumstances that migrants are living in will be an incentive to stay, rather than take the desperate step and risk their lives in the Mediterranean Sea in a time of crisis, and with very limited rescue options. 
It will also deter the business model of inhumane people smugglers who are profiting from the misery of the most desperate. NGOs urging migrants to leave in this desperate context makes them participants in a human tragedy.
In these difficult circumstances, the Maltese Government is proposing a way forward for the European Union to consider and act on – a substantial humanitarian mission to help Libyans and migrants in Libya.
The humanitarian aid from the European Union must be imminent and substantial – today and not tomorrow - and we are proposing an EU package of at least 100 million euros of food, aid, medical supplies and equipment.
It is not a time of half-measures. Malta is ready to play its part – and we will be there to assist in terms of logistical support for this humanitarian aid to arrive to its destination. We are also ready to assist Libya to help in the purchase of essential medical equipment to treat people.
Malta Is proposing this option to save lives today, deter human traffickers and avoid a human tragedy unfolding in the Mediterranean Sea. 
Europe is now facing an existential crisis – it is not a time for soundbites but a time of action to save lives.
Malta is ready to play its part, but we are making it very clear that this continental challenge calls for a continental response. If Malta is left alone against this crisis of tsunami proportions - people, children, pregnant women and victims of rape, will die.
An island as big as a small European city cannot be asked to solve on its own, in the middle of a pandemic, the years of European missteps and inaction in Libya and on immigration.
Failure or delays to launch this urgent humanitarian aid will mean more people in desperate conditions, more people without basic food and basic healthcare and looking at desperate measures at sea as their only way out. We must release the pressure of this crisis and not let it explode.
The European Union must take immediate action today before it becomes a human catastrophe tomorrow.