Malta has called on the European Union to develop a “clear strategy” to deal with migrants fleeing conflicts to their shores after two shipwrecks claimed hundreds of lives.


“We are no superpower,” Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told AFP. “But we do not only control our border but also Europe’s borders, and Italy is doing the same.”

Also on Sunday, Syrian refugees who survived a boat capsize off Malta said they were fired on by “militiamen” as they set out on their perilous journey from Libya.

At least 36 people perished after the boat sank on Friday, a week after another shipwreck off Italy left at least 359 dead.

“Those people had a life and a stable job in their country but could not live there any longer,” Muscat said. “The group that arrived (in Malta) yesterday included 10 medical doctors and a neurosurgeon.”

The prime minister complained of the “very little response” Malta had received in appeals for EU solidarity over the humanitarian crisis.

“This situation cannot be solved with money but with political commitment and a clear strategy,” he said.

Earlier on Sunday, Muscat held a surprise meeting in Libya with his counterpart Ali Zeidan, saying afterwards that the north African country was “part of the solution”.

A boat carrying up to 400 migrants, mostly Syrians, left the western Libyan port of Zwara on Thursday.

Some of the more than 200 survivors said Libyan militiamen shot wildly at them, leaving several people dead and causing the vessel to take on water and sink.

Italian and Maltese forces on Sunday rescued a total of 386 people aboard two boats and escorted them to Sicily. Around 100 were taken to Malta.

Italian customs police meanwhile rescued around 200 migrants who were expected to head to southern Italy.

Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta has announced an “Italian sea and air humanitarian mission” in the Mediterranean on Monday that would triple available vessels and add aviation to ward off further tragedies.

Foreign Minister Emma Bonino stressed that patrols should serve to rescue migrants rather than “telling them to stay where they are”.

Italy has also appealed to fellow EU states for help in managing the crisis and wants migration to be put on the agenda of summit talks in Brussels later this month.

According to UNHCR estimates, some 32,000 migrants have arrived in Malta and Italy this year.