Migration and life after Brexit will dominate discussions as EU leaders meet in the Maltese capital of Valletta on Friday.
“It is not often EU leaders get to meet up away from the doom and gloom of Brussels. Even on the picturesque island of Malta, they will find little to be cheerful about,” reported Euronews’ James Franey from Malta.
“The hosts worry about more refugees and migrants arriving this Spring. Britain is headed for the EU exit door – and the spectre of US President Donald Trump looms large.
“Trump’s immigration policies have been met with indignation in European capitals. All this however as the EU is planning tougher policies of its own.
“Malta wants stop more arrivals from Libya – and according to a draft statement, leaders would consider sending people back there.”
The idea, ministers say, is to deter people making that dangerous journey in the first place. It is a hard task given the conflict and instability in north Africa and the Middle East.
Regina Catrambone is one of the co-founders of sea rescue NGO Migrant Offshore Aid Station – an organisation arguing for safe, legal routes into Europe.
“The Mediterranean Sea for me has been always a place of holiday and relaxation, instead it is becoming a tomb because many, many people that are fleeing war and persecution in search of a better life,” said Catrambone.
“It is not just the person who is drowning out at sea. If we allow them to die, we are dying with them. Our humanity is dying with them.”
UN figures show more than 1,700 people applied for asylum in Malta last year. The bulk of them are from Libya, Syria, Eritrea and Somalia.
Refugee workers on the island argue the EU’s plan to stem the flow of these migrants will fail.
“The discussion that they are going to send people back to Libya, I think is hypocritical. Because I think the EU cannot blame Trump on the one hand of building a physical wall between the USA and Mexico and building structural walls to keep young people from Africa coming to Europe to seek asylum,” said Ahmed Bugri, Managing Director, Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants.
“I find it very hypocritical and I find it very displaced.”
Malta is the only EU member state with a resettlement program to the United States. Or at least it was, until the stroke of a president’s pen last week.
The UN says 455 migrants left Malta for a new life across the Atlantic last year.
But for Hosam, a carpenter from Damascus, his only goal is to return home. He feels that Trump’s move to ban Syrian refugees goes against American values.
“America is a country of freedom. Trump, with this step, has messed up everything,” said Hosam.
“There are Christians in our country. There are Muslims in Trump’s country. So what do we have to do now, do we have to kick Americans out as well? This is not freedom. It’s against the principles of freedom.”
But with no end in sight to the Syrian conflict, or the wider unrest across the region, it will take much more than yet another EU summit to bring Europe’s migration crisis to an end.
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