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Malta eases anti-COVID-19 restrictions

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Posters that remind people of following COVID-19 safety practices are seen at the entrance of a hair salon in St Julian’s, Malta, on May 22, 2020. Malta on Friday eased anti-COVID-19 restrictions by allowing restaurants, hairdressers, beauticians and other service outlets to resume business. (Photo by Jonathan Borg/Xinhua)

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Malta ready to act as bridge between EU, Libya to tackle illegal migration: PM

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Malta was ready to act as a bridge between Libya and the European Union (EU) to address the problem of illegal migration, Prime Minister Robert Abela said on Sunday.

He said his lightning visit to the war-torn country on Thursday confirmed that Libya was facing its own migration problems with an influx of migrants from neighboring countries which were also facing their difficulties.

Abela met Fayez al-Sarraj, prime minister of the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), in Tripoli. The two government heads discussed the need to push the EU to help Libya to train its coastguard, obtain funding for reception camps manned by the UN, as well as to build a realistic strategy to slow down the flow of migrants into Libya.

Al-Sarraj told Abela that Libya had around 800,000 migrants to deal with.

Referring to his visit, Abela said the two countries had agreed to set up specialized units to better coordinate operations against irregular migration. These centers are expected to start operating within the coming weeks.

According to Abela, the solution lies in concrete action on Libyan shores and its southern border. This would be done through addressing and stopping human trafficking, rather than focusing on the relocation of migrants to other countries.

“Previous local and foreign administrations have always tackled the migration problem on a boat-by-boat basis but we are looking at solving the issue in a holistic manner,” he said, adding that the government had already sent out a clear message in keeping migrants aboard commissioned out at sea. There are some 425 migrants on four tourist vessels just outside Malta’s territorial waters where Malta is keeping them there until a proper solution is found to the illegal migration.

“We have saved lives and saved people from drowning, but we have also given a message that Malta cannot bring in more people,” he said.

(XINHUA)

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Malta to reopen airports, ports on July 1

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Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela announced on Sunday that airports and ports will resume operations on July 1 while bars, gyms and law courts will reopen on Friday.

Abela told a television interview on party station ONE TV that following the good results in the past days, the decision was taken to start the process to return to complete normality, as the numbers were showing that COVID-19 “was a thing of the past in Malta.”

Referring to those who were concerned that the relaxation of measures was going to bring about a second wave or a spike in cases, he said they have been proven wrong.

“These are exciting times for Malta. We are returning to normality,” he said.

Abela said his government will on Monday make a formal announcement on lifting the restrictions.

He said that while measures to keep people safe will remain in place, the government did not want to send a signal to tourists that they should not visit Malta.

He said that on June 8, the government will announce a multi-million-euro budget that will encourage businesses to invest and consumers to spend money.

Malta had closed its airport and ports on March 21 to curb the spread of the pandemic. The decision to ban incoming flights came after Malta first banned travels to and from Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland and Spain.

As of Sunday, Malta had 618 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 534 recoveries, 75 active cases and nine deaths.

(XINHUA)

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Libya, Malta sign anti-illegal immigration deal

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Libya’s UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez Serraj and the Maltese counterpart Robert Abela on Thursday signed a deal on fighting illegal immigration.

The Memorandum of Understanding was signed during a visit by Abela to the Libyan capital Tripoli, where he held talks with Serraj on the latest developments in Libya as well as mutual cooperation, the Libyan Prime Minister‘s Information Office said in a statement.

Serraj underlined the importance of the bilateral relations, expressing his appreciation for Malta’s support to his government, as well as the aspiration to develop the bilateral cooperation.

Abela reaffirmed support for Serraj’s government, stressing that there is no military solution to the Libyan crisis and that there is no alternative to political solution.

“The two sides agreed to speed up activation of political, economic and security cooperation agreements,” the statement said.

Libya has become a preferred point of departure for thousands of illegal immigrants, mostly African, wanting to cross the Mediterranean Sea towards Europe, due to the insecurity and chaos in the country ever since the fall of the late leader Gaddafi’s regime.

The two officials also discussed the recently launched European Union‘s IRINI operation against arms smuggling to Libya.

The operation was launched recently in order to enforce the UN arms embargo on Libya, where Serraj’s UN-backed government and the rival eastern-based army have been fighting for control of Tripoli since April 2019.

(XINHUA)

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75 migrants rescued as Malta rents fourth tourist boat

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The Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) has rescued another group of 75 migrants on Wednesday night, and a fourth tourist vessel was rented to keep them outside Maltese territorial waters until an agreement with other European states is reached, a spokesman for the Maltese government confirmed on Thursday.

All the 75 migrants were male. The fourth tourist vessel will be leaving Malta later on Thursday after loading provisions.

It will drop anchor 13 nautical miles east of Valletta, where it will join another three tourist vessels commissioned by the Maltese government to house just over 350 migrants rescued since the end of April.

Wednesday’s rescue came two days after the AFM rescued 90 migrants, with 27 of them — consisting of minors and women — being allowed to disembark in Malta despite the closure of its ports for asylum seekers.

The minors and women were allowed to disembark in Malta “for humanitarian reasons,” the AFM said then.

Malta has closed off its ports to asylum seekers, citing health concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic.

(XINHUA)

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90 migrants rescued, 27 allowed to disembark in Malta

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A group of 27 migrants, consisting of minors and women, were allowed to disembark in Malta on Tuesday night after being rescued, the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) said Wednesday in a statement.

The group formed part of a boatload of around 90 persons who were rescued when they were in distress in Malta’s search and rescue zone.

The minors and women were allowed to disembark in Malta “for humanitarian reason,” the AFM statement said. The rest were transferred from the AFM patrol boat to one of the three Captain Morgan tourist boats being used to house migrants just outside Malta’s territorial waters.

Malta closed its ports to asylum seekers in April and told the European Union it could not guarantee the resources needed to conduct rescues at sea because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following its decision to close its ports, the government still wanted to live up to its international obligations to rescue people at sea who were in distress, said the statement.

Since April 30, Malta has chartered three Captain Morgan tourist boats and currently there are just over 350 migrants on board the three ferries.

(XINHUA)

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Malta holds another boatload of rescued migrants on high seas pending European solution

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Malta has rescued a group of 140 migrants and chartered a third tourist boat to hold them on the high seas after refusing their disembarkation, a government spokesman has confirmed.

Sources said the 140 rescued on Friday were in distress as their dinghy, which was already too small for all those people, was taking in water.

Malta has closed its ports to migrants in April and told the EU it could not guarantee the availability of assets to conduct rescues because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following its decision to close its ports, the government still wanted to live up to its international obligations to rescue people at sea who were in distress. On April 30, it chartered a tourist boat to house the 57 migrants rescued earlier in the day.

A second boat was chartered a week later after the Maltese army rescued another boatload of 120 migrants. Ten of them were allowed to disembark for purely humanitarian reasons.

The third boat commissioned on Friday will take the remaining 121 of a group of 140 rescued earlier in the day, as 19 of the group — mostly children, their parents and three pregnant women — were allowed to disembark in Malta.

The three chartered boats are outside Malta’s waters until a European solution is found. Malta is calling for solidarity from other EU member states.

(XINHUA)

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Malta to allow controlled visits to elderly homes as from Monday

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Residents at Malta’s elderly homes will start to receive visits again of their relatives as from Monday, the Maltese government said on Friday.

The announcement came as a relaxation of measures imposed more than two months ago to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The relatives will be guided to a specific visiting point in accordance with the ward of the person they want to visit. Meetings will be limited to 15 minutes, and a perspex barrier will divide the elderly people and their relatives.

Meanwhile, visitors must wear masks at all times and have their temperature taken beforehand.

The visits will have to be booked at least two days earlier and no more than four people will be allowed to visit at one go.

Malta stopped visits to care homes in March, soon after the coronavirus pandemic hit the island.

(XINHUA)

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Malta says migration places “disproportionate burden” on it

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Migration forces Malta to carry a “disproportionate burden,” with one percent of its population being migrants who arrived on the island in 2019 and so far this year, the government said on Wednesday.

In a statement, the government reiterated that the small Mediterranean island was being left alone to deal with the influx of migrants into Europe.

The government said that 3,405 irregular migrants arrived in Malta last year “as a result of human smuggling through the central Mediterranean route.” It said that to date 610 pledges for relocation have been received but only 88 of them were actually honored. The rest, 2,795, remained the sole responsibility of Malta.

The government said that only eight percent of migrants who arrived in Malta since 2005 had been relocated to other member states despite arrivals exceeding 21,000.

Since January, 1,222 irregular migrants have arrived in Malta. It said that migrant arrivals through the central Mediterranean route have increased by 438 percent in the first three months of the year and 300 percent in April.

“While Malta has respected to the full its international and European obligations, the principle of European solidarity, which is also enshrined in European legislation, is not being adhered to,” the government said.

The Maltese government has recently rented two large boats, usually used to take tourists on tours around the island, to temporarily house around 160 migrants until a European solution is found. The boats are berthed some 13 nautical miles away, just outside Malta’s territorial waters, local media reported.

(XINHUA)

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Malta to allow restaurants, hair salons to reopen

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Malta will be relaxing the measures it took to curb the spread of COVID-19 by allowing restaurants and hair salons to reopen by the end of the week, Prime Minister Robert Abela announced on Sunday.

Restaurants have been shut for two months but are now allowed to serve people with tables and chairs placed on pavements outside their establishment so as to respect social distancing rules.

He told listeners on the radio station of his political party that the measures were being relaxed since the number of people contracting the virus was “contained”.

Abela said the restaurants, nail technicians and hairdressers will be closely monitored by the authorities to make sure that health regulations are fully respected. He referred to a survey last week in which several small businesses said they were struggling to continue employing people without being allowed to operate their businesses.

“Things will not be the same as they were in the past. It would be plain stupid to revert back to then because it means we could lose all that we’ve managed to achieve by containing the virus,” he said.

Abela said his government did not want to continue “punishing” people by keeping them locked indoors but at the same time warned against scaremongering that a second wave will hit the country.

“We need to continue educating people to take precautions and respect social distancing rules,” he said.

The confirmed COVID-19 cases in Malta rose to 553 with 454 recovered and 6 deaths reported as of Sunday.

(XINHUA)

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