Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The government of Malta says it has no more capacity to deal with illegal immigrants, following an influx of unprecedented proportions

Michael Buchanan:

Almost 1,000 immigrants have landed on the small island since January - the equivalent, says Valletta, of about 30,000 immigrants arriving in Spain.

Most set off in small boats from Libya, hoping to reach Italy and Europe's mainland, but end up in Malta.

Malta is now demanding immediate EU help to deal with the problem.

There are more than 700 immigrants at a centre near the capital Valletta - an old school whose classrooms have been converted into tightly-packed impersonal bedrooms.

The place has sanitary and health problems because it is massively overcrowded, full of young African men, none of whom it seems actually want to be in Malta.

Most hoped to reach the European mainland, but ended up in Malta because of bad navigation or desperate need.

Maltese Foreign Minister Michael Frendo says his country now faces the greatest immigration problem in the EU.

"If the Spanish have had 10,000 in the Canaries, we can say we have had the equivalent of 96,000, taken on the density of population, and we are now at the limits of our capacity.

"Malta desperately needs help to deal with the people here and to stop more from arriving. And if it doesn't get it, many Maltese people fear the effects the immigrants will have on their small, homogenous nation," Mr Frendo says.

Malta in middle of immigration woes

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