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Malta foreign minister: Country 'cannot offer' migrants opportunities

From Isa Soares and Oliver Joy
updated 5:06 AM EST, Thu January 9, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Malta receives a subsidy from the European Refugee Fund to deal with the influx of asylum seekers.
  • Between January and September of last year, 31,000 migrants are believed to have entered the European Union illegally.
  • European nations such as Germany and Sweden have already opened there doors to refugees fleeing war in the home nations

(CNN) -- Malta cannot afford to continue supporting migrants from war-torn countries in its over-crowded detention camps, the country's foreign minister has told CNN.

Speaking with CNN's Isa Soares, George Vella said that while he didn't want to blame the migrants, they "do not help themselves" in the immigration enclosures as they "break toilets" and "smear the place."

When asked what the government can do to improve living conditions in the detention camp, Vela responded: "They don't care for the facilities they have... we cannot afford to carry on looking after all these numbers, and utilizing our resources."

Vella continued: "We cannot offer these people the opportunities for which they left their countries and risked their lives to get a better life, many of them don't want to come to Malta, they come by chance as the boat drifts."

Watch more: Stark reality for Malta's asylum seekers

Video shows naked migrants being hosed

The minister called on European Union member states for "solidarity" in the face of increasing numbers of asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean, particularly from North and East Africa.

Migrants rescued off Italian coast

He said: "When these individuals qualify for protection, asylum seekers and they become refugees, they are protected. Then there would be a system where they would be relocated proportionally, possibly among the other European Union member states."

Italian Coast Guard rescues 700 people

Read more: Which countries take in most refugees? Not the West

Between January and September of last year, 31,000 migrants are believed to have entered the European Union illegally by crossing the Mediterranean to land on Italian soil or the island of Malta, according to the European Union border agency Frontex.

"We sincerely believe that given our size and our density of population, if you compare, we are taking a bigger strain proportionally than all the other countries in the European Union," Vella said.

Read more: Pope prays for lost refugees on visit to Mediterranean island

Malta gets assistance from the European Refugee Fund to deal with the influx of asylum seekers. In 2013, the Mediterranean island received 4.8 million euros [$6.5 million] from the fund, established in 2007.

European nations such as Germany and Sweden have already opened their doors to refugees fleeing war in the home nations, particularly in the face of civil war in Syria.

Read more: Scores dead after boat sinks off Lampedusa island

But Vella believes that measures to manage border control do not go far enough and said more needs to be done to tackle the root of the problem in troubled countries.

He added: "The problem is manning the border on the eastern side of Libya, which borders Sudan, which takes you to Eritrea and Somalia, from [where] most of them come."

On Thursday, more than 200 migrants were rescued from an overcrowded boat in rough waters in the Mediterranean Sea, according to the Italian navy. The boat was spotted about 80 miles south of the Italian island of Lampedusa, another refugee hotspot.

The migrants, from Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Pakistan, Zambia and Mali, were all moved safely.

Vella said: "You've got to look at the help you can give the countries of origin, you can look at the problems in the transfer of these people through countries where they fall prey to criminal gangs that make money in human trafficking."

CNN's Oliver Joy contributed to this report.

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