The United Nations agency responsible for refugees, UNHCR, was accused in no uncertain terms by former foreign minister Michael Frendo of hampering Malta’s diplomatic efforts to find a home for refugees in other European countries.
Speaking at a public event in Kalkara on Sunday, organised by the Association of Local Councils to promote inter-cultural dialogue, Frendo said that in one particular case Finland had offered to take around 400 refugees from Malta but dropped the offer after the UNHCR objected.
According to the former foreign minister, the UNHCR insisted with the Finns that the 400 refugees from Malta could not be deducted from Finland’s quota but had to be calculated over and above the annual allocation agreed with the UNHCR.
It transpires that the host country has little say as to from where it can take up refugees since it is the UNHCR that identifies the cases most in need for resettlement.
Frendo said the Finnish government eventually dropped its offer since it did not want to over-step its annual quota.
“At an EU level I specifically never asked for funds to deal with the problem of illegal immigration because that is the easiest thing to do. But as a country we found problems when dealing with the issue diplomatically. And UNHCR was one of the agencies that hampered our efforts despite us being a small and densely populated country,” Frendo said when reacting to comments from the floor on the EU’s lack of interest in the situation Malta is facing.
Frendo, who was flanked by another former foreign minister, George Vella, insisted that Malta was a special case because of the country’s small size. In agreement, both former foreign ministers admitted the problem had a human face but insisted that the national interest had to be safeguarded.
During the brief discussion that followed with members of the audience also contributing to the debate, little emphasis was placed on the main theme, inter-cultural dialogue.
As was to be expected the focus turned on to illegal immigration with little talk on how immigrants already living in Malta could be further integrated.
Frendo spoke of the need to define the “cement” that bound us together as a community and insisted on the need to redefine citizenship.
Another panel speaker, lecturer Carmen Sammut spoke of the need for a different discourse that did not imprint a negative image upon immigrants. She insisted that even in the Marsa open centre, where some 700 immigrants are housed, there was a hotchpotch of diversity to which the general public is oblivious.
The debate was chaired by historian Henry Frendo.