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Doubts shed on Malta’s readiness for sudden influx of asylum-seekers

NGOs and migration experts doubt whether Malta is in a position to cope with an influx of migrants as Europe is braced for first populist government in Italy

The League's Matteo Salvini has promised to reduce boat arrivals and expel migrants from Italy

The formation of a new government could send shockwaves throughout the old continent as the EU is readying itself for the first populist and eurosceptic government.

But this will not only test European unity. The new Italian government’s tough stance on migration could see the return of boat arrivals on Maltese shores for the first time in 5 years.

Sources who spoke to The Shift News expressed doubts as to whether Malta is prepared to deal with a sudden influx of boat arrivals. Following the tacit deal between Malta and Italy, Maltese authorities downsized the country’s infrastructure with reception centres in Hal Far and Safi being dismantled or neglected.

This has raised concerns among NGOs and migration experts on whether Malta is in position to cope with an influx of migrants.

Questions sent to the foreign affairs ministry on whether Malta is taking any precautionary measures and whether it would be seeking talks with the new Italian government on migration remain unanswered.

In the next few hours Italy is finally expected to have a new government formed by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and the far-right League (La Lega).

After weeks of negotiations, the two parties are on the verge of forming a new government, with the only outstanding issue to resolve being the name of the new Prime Minister.

The League’s leader and possibly Italy’s next Prime Minister, Matteo Salvini, said that immigration and security “are the foundations of the government’s programme” which will “reduce sea arrivals, increase expulsions and guarantee the right of legitimate defence.”

Since Labour’s victory in the polls in 2013, the number of boat arrivals in Malta has dwindled significantly. In 2013, some 2,008 asylum seekers reached Malta by boat.

However a tacit agreement between Maltese Prime Minister Jospeh Muscat and the former Italian premier Matteo Renzi has seen Italy take in most of the migrants reaching Europe by boat from Libya.

In 2014, Malta took in 568 asylum-seekers who arrived by sea and the numbers tumbled further to 104 in 2015, 25 in 2016 and 23 in 2017.

After seeing some 181,000 asylum-seekers reach Italy by boat in 2016, the number of arrivals plummeted over the past year, after the outgoing Italian government signed a controversial deal with Libya to stop departures from the war-torn North African nation.

In the run-up to the March election, the League campaigned heavily on preventing new migrant arrivals and deporting thousands of migrants already on Italian soil.

In February, former Italian premier and the League’s coalition partner Silvio Berlusconi warned that Italy cannot continue taking all migrants saved in the Mediterranean.

“There is no doubt that migrants who risk their life and cross the Mediterranean have to be saved. However, we will not accept that all disembark in Italy. Those saved close to Malta will have to be taken to and disembark in Malta,” Berlusconi said in an interview on state TV.

Highly critical of the secret deal signed between Muscat and Renzi, the League is set to shred the agreement. According to media reports, the deal saw a trade-off in which Italy took in all migrants in exchange for Maltese oil exploration rights in disputed sea stretches between the two countries.

Officially, the two countries denied that such an arrangement existed, insisting it was just a matter of “close cooperation”.

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