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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 June 2007, 16:19 GMT 17:19 UK
Malta wants EU help on migrants
By Alix Kroeger
BBC News, Brussels

African migrants rescued after three days clinging to a tuna net
A group of migrants was rescued after days clinging to a tuna net
Malta has urged other EU countries to take a greater share of illegal migrants - either rescued at sea or who make it to land from Africa.

It said EU policy on migrants was "a complete mess and a free for all".

The smallest country in the EU, Malta has received at least 3,500 migrants over the past two years.

Malta was heavily criticised for its refusal last month to pick up 27 migrants who spent three days clinging to a tuna net in Libyan waters.

EU countries have made available only about 10% of the resources they promised for border patrols at sea.

Now, Malta has come up with a plan to share out illegal migrants, based on the population of member states.

But talk of solidarity is unlikely to be matched by action.

Intra-EU resettlement is an important way to pursue
Commission green paper

Officials say a formal deal on burden-sharing could be seen as a signal to potential migrants that they will be accepted.

Europe has been here before: in the mid-1990s, Germany took in half a million refugees from the wars in the former Yugoslavia.

Last year, 20,000 Iraqi asylum seekers made it to Europe: Sweden alone took in 9,000. In those instances, too, the EU has been unable to reach agreement on burden-sharing.

With the flows from Africa, it is Malta which is the most exposed: a small island state in the Mediterranean, it is the first EU outpost that many of the migrants can reach.

Last week, EU Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini accused Malta of hiding behind a legal bureaucratic argument while letting people die.

He was speaking after Malta refused to pick up African migrants found clinging to a tuna net in Libyan waters, and denied permission for a boat carrying 26 migrants to land.

An international group of experts is now reviewing the law of the sea, to determine who has responsibility for rescuing such groups.

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