Bishops of Malta: Closing Ports to NGO Migrant Vessels ‘Potentially Fatal’

(L) Archbishop of Malta Charles Scicluna gives a press conference at the Apostolic Nunciature in Santiago on June 12, 2018. - Scicluna, the Vatican's top abuse investigator, and another papal envoy Jordi Bertomeu arrived in Chile on Tuesday. The two officials are to travel to Osorno, the Catholic diocese that …
CLAUDIO REYES/JORGE GUERRERO/AFP/Getty

The Bishops of Malta have voiced their opposition to their government’s decision to close its harbors to NGO ships shuttling migrants from North Africa to Europe.

Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Bishop Mario Grech have both publicly backed a statement by NGOs claiming that the consequences of the government’s decision “are potentially fatal, as the vessels will no longer be able to continue saving lives in the Mediterranean Sea.”

“Although supposedly aimed at ensuring respect for the law, this action directly undermines the protection of human life at Europe’s borders, making them even more dangerous for refugees and asylum seekers,” the NGOs said.

Archbishop Scicluna tweeted out his support for the statement, saying “I fully support the Joint NGO Statement,” and adding that closed ports mean “closed hearts.”

For his part, Bishop Grech took to both Twitter and Facebook, declaring: “I endorse this statement.”

On Thursday, the Maltese government invoked the rule of law, saying that “Malta needs to ascertain that operations being conducted by entities using its port services and operating within the area of Maltese responsibility, are in accordance to national and international rules.”

Two NGO vessels, the Lifeline and the Sea Watch III, are currently detained in Malta’s Grand Harbour.

The president of Malta’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, Daniel Darmanin, invoked Jesus’s flouting of sabbath laws to justify the NGO’s often illegal activity, in a statement that was retweeted by Archbishop Scicluna.

In their statement, the NGOs asserted that one of the inevitable consequences of the decision to close Malta’s ports to these vessels will be that “more people will lose their lives attempting to reach a place of safety.”

What the NGOs failed to mention was that loss of human life in the Mediterranean prior to the introduction of NGO “rescue” ships to encourage the perilous passage across the sea was many times lower than it is today.

In 2017, the European Frontex agency denounced human traffickers’ exploitation of NGOs to efficiently convey African migrants from Libya to Italy.

In a 64-page report, European border control suggested that NGOs, whether knowingly or not, have become accomplices to people smugglers by providing a reliable shuttle service for migrants from Africa to Europe, lowering smugglers’ costs and improving their “business model.”

“Migrants and refugees – encouraged by the stories of those who had successfully made it in the past – attempt the dangerous crossing since they are aware of and rely on humanitarian assistance to reach the EU,” the report states.

The report found that the ready availability of effective SAR [search and rescue] operations has served to stimulate demand for smugglers’ services, by making migration to Europe more accessible, resulting in what Frontex described as a dangerous “pull factor.”

SAR missions near the Libyan coast have had “unintended consequences,” the report stated. “Namely, they influence smugglers’ planning and act as a pull factor that compounds the difficulties inherent in border control and saving lives at sea.”

“Dangerous crossings on unseaworthy and overloaded vessels were organised with the main purpose of being detected by EUNAVFOR Med/Frontex and NGO vessels,” the reports added.

The encouragement provided to people smugglers by NGOs’ taxi service combined with Italy’s open-borders policy contributed inestimably to the huge number of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean, turning the sea into what Pope Francis has called a “vast cemetery.”

Now that Italy and Malta have finally found the courage to stem the wave of illegal immigrants pouring into Europe, the Maltese bishops apparently wish to open the floodgates again, which would inevitably provoke countless more deaths at sea.

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