Brigadier Martin Xuereb, the head of the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM), spoke at a recent seminar sponsored by the European Parliament, “Europe’s new Mediterranean reality: Migration and asylum in Malta, Greece and Cyprus,” and summarised Malta’s interpretation of its search and rescue obligations. Xuereb said that Malta is obligated to coordinate search and rescue operations within its SAR zone, but is not required to perform all rescue operations.
Xuereb said Malta believes rescued persons should be disembarked at the nearest place of safety which, given the size and location of the Maltese SAR, will sometimes mean that Italian territory, particularly Lampedusa, is closer. Xuereb acknowledged that this interpretation is not shared by others. Xuereb “said that Malta had consistently insisted that the arrangement that best represented the interests of rescued persons was one that saw them disembarked in the nearest place of safety.” He said the Maltese Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) has coordinated or assisted with 54 SAR cases so far this year.
Xuereb also confirmed that Malta would continue its refusal to host Frontex joint operations because of its objections to Frontex guidelines which are based “on a number of grounds, including the fact that [the guidelines] addressed matters deemed to be outside community competence and attempted to erode the rights that Malta enjoyed under the international legal framework. … In light of these guidelines, Malta considered the hosting of [Frontex] joint operations to be detrimental to its national interest.” Malta objects to the guidelines because it believes they would require rescued migrants to be disembarked in the country hosting the joint operation.