Research studies

The Impact of Illegal Immigration upon the Maltese-Libyan Bilateral Relations


Prepared by the researcher  :  Dr. Mustafa A. A. Kashiem – Professor of Political Science at Tripoli University, Libya

Democratic Arab Center

Journal of Political Science and Law : Thirty Issue – December 2021

A Periodical International Journal published by the “Democratic Arab Center” Germany – Berlin

Nationales ISSN-Zentrum für Deutschland
ISSN 2566-8056
Journal of Political Science and Law


This study aims to explore, describe, and analyze the impact of the MoU between the governments of Mata and Libya in the field of combating illegal immigration. This study adopts multi-methods and techniques strategy, e.g., comparative methods and content analysis techniques. To examine the assumption of MoU’s impact upon Malta and Libya’s bilateral relations, this study content analyzing the text of the MoU into words frequencies that reflect Malta and Libya’s contemporary international relations. The MoU emphasizes its compliance with the rules and principles of international law on the one hand, and it develops a practical way to monitor and manage the crisis of illegal immigration by establishing two detention centers on the other hand. While Malta will finance the Detention Center in Tripoli, on the one hand, the European Union will support financially and technically the Libyan government to secure its southern borders from illegal immigration influx on the other hand.


Malta share with Libya and other Mediterranean countries historical and geopolitical heritages. Geographically, a flight from Tripoli to Valletta is around half an hour. The distance between Tripoli and Valletta is closer than that between Tripoli and Benghazi or Tunisia. Furthermore, Malta shares political and economic ties with Libya and other Mediterranean countries. Interdependency characterizes the international relations among international actors, and Maltese- Libyan’s bilateral relationship is not an exception. Although illegal immigration is a new phenomenon (since the 1990s), it threatens the national security of Malta, Libya, and other Mediterranean countries as well.

The Maltese’s share of illegal immigrants and refugees in 2020 is considerably lower than in Italy and Spain. For example, the Malta share of immigrants and refugees from January to June 2020 reached 29.56% of Italy. (See the data in Table: 1) Yet, the level of illegal immigration to Malta is too high comparing to its population and territory. Generally, immigrants and refugees, who landed on the Maltese shores, are relocating to other European countries. (See Sophia Operation)

Data and Methodology

  A study of the World Bank (2016) indicated that around 25% of the World’s sixty million displaced persons are Africans. The African and Arab illegal immigrants use North African countries as a transit area to Europe.[1] Malta, Greece, Spain, Italy, and Cyprus are the most attractive destinations for illegal immigrants by sea. If Malta is sharing other European’s burden of illegal immigrants and refugees; thus, what is the problem? The Maltese capability to host irregular immigrants is due to its low population density, cultural distinctiveness, and economic crisis.  Illegal immigration reflects a real threat to the national security of Malta, Libya, and other Mediterranean countries, e.g., Italy and Spain. Thus, this study aims to explore, describe, analyze, and compare illegal immigration from different angles. In this regard, three main questions may be asked: Is an individual state, e.g., Malta, able to combat irregular immigration alone? Why did Malta and Libya conclude a bilateral and not a multilateral agreement to combat illegal immigration? And what is the impact of the Memorandum of Understanding “MoU” on the Libyan-Maltese international relations? This study assumes that the MoU is expecting to enhance the bilateral relations between Malta and Libya. While the MoU is the independent variable, bilateral relations between Malta and Libya are the dependent variable.

 Regarding the data, the MoU, refugees, and trade exchanges are the sources of this study. The MoU will be content analyzing in terms of frequencies and percentage bases. Yet, low and high word frequencies require explanations. While the quantitative content analysis adds accuracy and precision, the qualitative content analysis explains and explores the reasons behind low and high word frequencies. According to the previous hypothesis, this study is dividing into the following sections:

  • Malta-Libya Bilateral Relations
  • MoU Between Malta and Libya
  • Impact of the MoU on the Maltese-Libyan Relations
  • Conclusion

Malta-Libya Bilateral Relations: Background

 History and geography are characterizing the bilateral relations between the Maltese and Libyans since the old days. The ancient civilizations in the Mediterranean basin had involved in peace and war relationships. The Libyan territory was a base to spread Islam to Southern Europe in the Middle Ages, where Malta is locating. Besides, the Knights of St. Jones that inhibited Malta invaded Libya in 1551. Yet, trade and cultural contacts characterized the relationship among the Mediterranean peoples, e.g., the Maltese, through history. [2]

The early contemporary political contact between the two countries began after the independence of Malta in 1964. During the Kingdom era (1952-1969), the Maltese-Libyan relations reflected the early collaboration in the economic area. Consequently, Libya concluded two agreements on May 31, 1968. The two Agreements focused on economic, scientific, technical, and trade exchanges. (See the Annex of the Malta-Libya Treaty of Friendship, 1984)

Yet, bilateral relations have developed dramatically during the Kaddafi regime (1969-2011). There are more than twenty agreements signed between Malta and Libya in 1971-1988. These agreements and the Friendship Treaty reflect strong ties between the two countries in different fields, e.g., economic, social, cultural, security, and political coordination. [3]

Libya offered a loan to Malta in 1972 as a substitute to the rent by the British military bases. Despite criticism of Malta, its relations with Libya become more institutionalizing. Thus, both countries exchanging diplomatic embassies and missions in the 1970s. Nevertheless, the bilateral relations have intensified in the 1980s because of the Continental Shelf case between Malta and Libya in 1986. Although the International Court of Justice’s decision, in this case, was in favor of Libya, the bilateral relations improved progressively. [4]

The leftist orientations of the Maltese Prime Minister Dom Mintoff and Kaddafi Arab nationalism attitudes speed the process of closer bilateral relations between the two countries. Thus, institutionalizing bilateral relations are developing noticeably during the Kaddafi era when a Treaty of Friendship between Malta and Libya concluded in 1984. The Treaty of Friendship between Malta and Libya is seven pages long, and it includes a protocol on collaboration in the security field. (See for more details on Malta-Libya international relations, Wikiwand)

The institutionalized bilateral relations between Malta and Libya have enhanced collaboration in the political, economic, and cultural fields. Geography, cultural contact, and history are among the factors that strengthening Malta and Libya’s bilateral relations since the 1960s. Additionally, political and economic ties are crucial elements strengthening the bilateral relations between the two countries. The literature review reveals that Malta supports the Palestine issue, and this is highly respecting by Libya and other Arab states.[5] As an Arab nationalist leader, Kaddafi suggested a political union with Malta.

During the February revolution, 2011, the Maltese government refused to hand neither the two pilots nor their Mirage airplanes to the Kaddafi regime. This position appreciated by the revolutionary leaders and the friendly relations between Malta and Libya post-Kaddafi continued to be distinguished. In 2015, Malta recognized the House of Representative “HoRs” in Tubrak and the Libyan ambassador in Valletta protesting that action. Malta tried to play as a mediator between the conflicting parties in the Libyan crisis in late 2015, but it failed to do so due to internal war and institutional division in Libya. Since the Government of National Accord “GNA” took power in Tripoli on December 17, 2015, Malta becomes more concerned about security and economic affairs. The worst scenario for Malta and other southern Mediterranean countries is Libya as a failed country. Thus, Illegal immigration and refugees become a nightmare for Malta and Italy alike.[6] Both countries concluded agreements with Tripoli to combat human trafficking from Libya.

The early arrival of illegal immigration to Malta goes back to November 2001, when a boat carrying 57 refugees landed on its seacoast. Thus, Malta entered the new century with an illegal immigration crisis imposed by regional and international factors. (Karen, 2008) The illegal immigration crisis in Malta is affecting by geography and population. Thus, the Maltese Government Draft Strategy (2014, p. 3) pointed out that: “…in the context of a country of 316 square kilometers and a population of over 400,000 such an influx has significant repercussions in terms of resources and accommodation logistics, as well as to other key aspects, including international protection, integration as well as the return of those found not to be deserving of international protection.”

The data of Table: 1 indicates the number of illegal immigrants, who arrived in Maltese seashores compared with Italy, 2009-2020. Examining the data of Table: 1 leads to the following points:

  1. The number of illegal immigrants in Malta is fluctuating from one year to another. The lowest number of migration was recorded in 2016 and 2017, and the highest level was observed in 2019 and 2020. (See Table: 1) The illegal immigration curve fluctuation is due to many reasons, such as the war on Tripoli and the declining number of refugees in Italy. The increased number of illegal immigrants in the year 2019 and the mid-2020 alerted the Maltese government to the migration crisis. Consequently, the Prime Minister of Malta visited Tripoli and signed the MoU on May 28, 2020.
  2. The Italian restrictions and firm procedures on illegal immigration pushed the refugees towards Malta as an alternative. Thus, the data of Table: 1 indicates that the higher number of illegal immigrants in Malta coincided at the same time with a decreasing number of refugees in Italy during 2019 and mid-2020. The highest level of illegal immigration in Italy during 2016-2017 resulted in a lower sharing to Malta. More coordination in combating irregular immigration is needed among Malta, Libya, Italy, and the European Union. In short, the illegal immigration crisis that is facing Malta is a complicated one; therefore, it requires the collaboration of all parties.
  3. Although it is very early to evaluate the impact of the MoU upon the curve of illegal immigration in Malta, the data of Table: 1 indicates that the Treaty of Friendship and Partnership of 2008 between Italy and Libya has resulted in a lower level of illegal immigration during the years 2009 and 2010. (See Kashiem, 2010) However, the revolutionary movement against the Kaddafi regime in 2011and instability in Libya led to new waves of illegal immigration to Italy and Malta alike. The MoU is expected to decrease the number of immigrants in Malta due to mutual interests between them.
  4. The war on Tripoli has resulted in an increasing level of illegal immigration to Malta. In short, Libya’s instability affects the national security of other neighboring countries, e.g., Malta, Italy, and other Southern Mediterranean countries. Consequently, it may argue that the end of the internal war and political-economic stability are preconditions to combat the illegal immigration crisis.
  5. The MoU and other migration arrangements may slow down the level of migration in the Mediterranean basin. Nevertheless, they probably will not end the illegal immigration crisis in Malta and other European countries shortly. The number of illegal immigrants has been increased dramatically because instability and underdevelopment are the rules rather than the exception in the transit and exporting countries of migration.

In short, Malta and Libya’s bilateral relations reflect historical and geo-strategic ties since the old days. The bilateral relations between the two countries entered a new era in 1968 when the United Libyan kingdom signed two agreements with Malta in the economic area. The institutionalizing of the bilateral relationship has enhanced further during the Kaddafi era. Thus, more than twenty different agreements and treaties have concluded between Libya and Malta. The special relationship between Malta and Libya has continued in Libya post-Kaddafi. Therefore, the MoU signed to combat the illegal immigration crisis that threatens their national securities and interests. The focus will shift in the following sections to the examination of the MoU between Malta and Libya.

Table: 1

Number of Illegal Immigrants who arrived in Malta and Italy by

Boats, 2009 -2020

Italy Malta Year
19090 1475 2009
12121 47 2010
37350 1579 2011
17352 1890 2012
26620 2008 2013
63456 568 2014
83970 104 2015
123600 25 2016
130119 23 2017
53596 1445 2018
43783 3406 2019
11500 3400 2020

Data Source: The UN Refuges Agency, at; and

MoU between Malta and Libya

  The MoU between Malta and Libya aims to combat illegal immigration in both countries. While Libya is a passing zone, Malta is a host and transit state at the same time. Most of the illegal migrants who reach the Maltese shores are willing to continue their journey to other European countries, e.g., Germany and the United Kingdom. The MoU is a cumulative process that reflects strong historical ties, and it has concluded according to national law, international treaties and Controls, and the objectives and purposes of the UN Charter. Furthermore, the MoU “…will consolidate peace, security, and stability in the region.” Malta’s position towards the issue of illegal immigration is affecting by its domestic inputs and global outputs. (See Hill, 2003: 39)

The creation of one Coordination Centre in Valletta and another in Tripoli (by mid-2020) will enhance the collaboration process in combating illegal immigration by both countries. (Article 1) Each Coordination Centre is operating by three officials appointed jointly by the GNA and the Maltese Government. While the GNA appoints two officials in the Tripoli Coordination Centre and one representative in the Valletta office, the Maltese Government does the same thing. These actions by the governments of both countries assure monitoring and follow-up procedures to the dilemma of illegal immigration. (Article 2)

The Coordination Centers are not a substitute for other detentions in Malta and Libya, but they are another type of immigration facility. The detention centers are not a prison, but they are checking points for police and health procedures. While the first type of detention facility is preparing for asylum seekers and illegal migrants with a view of deportation, the second type is an alternative facility for risks of absconding. The third type is an arrangement for vulnerable immigrants, “whom there are no concerns on the risk of absconding,” e. g. minors. The first three types of illegal immigration detentions are managing by national authorities in either Malta or Libya. However, there are regional and international monitoring of immigration detentions, e.g., the European Union and the International Organization for Migration. (See the Draft Strategy Document, p. 9-15)

 The fourth type of detention is establishing by the MoU, and it is operating jointly by Malta and Libya. The Maltese government pledged to finances the establishment and operation of Coordination Centers in Valletta and Tripoli simultaneously. (Article 3) The duties of the Coordination Centers are limited to support and coordination between the two parties. (Article 4) Since Libya is suffering from security and financial crises; thus, Malta will ask for financial assistance from the European Union “European Union” to support the GNA efforts in securing its southern borders. Also, Malta will ask the European Union for technical support for the Libyan border control and protection. The goal from financial and technical support is to enable the GNA to dismantle and follow up on “human trafficking networks, and curtailing the operations of organized crime.” The European Union funding will extend to include “additional maritime assets for the interception and follow-up of human trafficking activities in the search and rescue region in the Mediterranean basin.” (Article 5)

 The MoU between Malta and Libya does not contradict the national security and international obligations of both parties. The MoU respects the national security and interests of other states. (Article 6) refers to the settlement of disputes is restricting by amicable means and through communication channels; therefore, mediation and judicial settlement of disputes are avoiding. (Article 7) The MoU emphasizes the importance of diplomatic channels and negotiation to revise or amend the MoU. (Article 8) When consensus is not reaching between the two parties within two months, the MoU may be terminating as mentioned by Article (9). The MoU will last for three years, and it shall be renewed automatically for one year unless one party decides to terminate it. Termination of the MoU “shall not affect the current commercial activities and programs between the two countries.”[7] (Article 9) Although the original copies of the MoU are in Arabic, Maltese, and English, the English text shall prevail when disputes between the two countries exist. (Article 10)

  Combating human trafficking and the common interests pushed their national governments to conclude an agreement that aims to face the influx of immigrants and refugees from the Libyan shores into the Maltese seacoasts. [8] After exploring and examining the MoU text, a further qualitative content analysis leads us to emphasize the following points:

  1. Neither Malta nor Libya can combat the dilemma of illegal immigration alone because it requires coordination and collaboration efforts on the bilateral and multilateral levels alike. Although the European Union deals with immigration cases on the regional level, Malta and other European Mediterranean countries concluded bilateral agreements with some Mediterranean countries such as Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco. Consequently, the MoU between Malta and Libya is a continuing process to deal pragmatically with the crisis of illegal immigration.
  2. The Libyan crisis resulted in an increase of illegal immigrant numbers since the 2000s in general, and since 2012 in particular, due to instability, long Libyan border (more than 4000 Km), and internal war. The absence of a central government in Libya that can control its border encourages the GNA to conclude agreements with the European Union, Italy, and Malta to eliminate the process of human trafficking and organized crimes.
  3. Malta and Italy are promising destinations for illegal immigration either as a homeland or transit country. Thus, a heavy burden has been faced by their national governments. Therefore, Malta’s limited geographical territory and resources pushed its government to sign the MoU with Libya. More illegal immigration and refugees will threaten the life standers, cultural identity, and security of the Maltese citizens. The MoU is a means to manage the illegal immigration crisis on the one hand and to share the burden of human trafficking with Libya and the EU on the other hand.
  4. The conclusion of the MoU reflects the common interests of Malta and Libya alike. Illegal immigration threatens the instability and national security of Malta and Libya. Therefore, their coordination and collaboration mean sharing the burden of the illegal immigration crisis in the Mediterranean region.
  5. Financial support, securing the long Libyan borders, and Coordination Centers are just means to manage the illegal immigration crisis in the short run. Dealing with the phenomenon of illegal immigration in the future requires joint efforts to help the exporting countries to achieve sustainable economic development and stability.

In short, the ultimate goal of the MoU between Malta and Libya is to strengthen the bilateral coordination to combat illegal immigration. The MoU is not an objective in itself, but it is a means to manage the immigration crisis facing both countries since the 2000s. The shift from the macro-level of analysis into the micro-level in the next section will show the importance of partial details incorporated in the MoU.

Impact of the MoU on the Maltese-Libyan Relations

  History, geopolitics, shared interests, and combating illegal immigration are among the leading factors that affect bilateral relations in the Mediterranean basin. This study aims to examine the influence of MoU upon the bilateral relations between Malta and Libya in the new century. In the previous section of this study, description and analytical methods have been used. Here, a quantitative content analysis technique help to explore and examine the frequencies in the text. Consequently, the data of Table: 2 indicates the frequencies and percentages of various words in the whole text of the MoU. In this regard, several points are summarizing as follow:

  1. Examining the text of the MoU resulted in 170 frequent words that reflect different aspects of the MoU. The goal of this section is to describe and analyze the most frequent words, quantitatively and qualitatively. Although the MoU is limiting in terms of pages (5 pages) and articles (10 articles), many words are more frequent. The words that are repeating more than once reach 73.4% of the total frequencies (N=170). The most frequent terms refer to the most prominent topic of the MoU. For example, on the procedural level, the focus of the MoU is on the signature

stage (4.7%), enforcement (1.8%), amendment (1.8%), dispute (1.8%), Annex (1.8%), implementation (1.8%), revision (1.1), and termination (3.5%). The last frequent words (11.9%) indicate that Malta and Libya are pursuing the necessary formal procedures during the different stages of the MoU. Yet, the macro-level of analysis gives us the whole picture of the MoU, and the micro-level of analysis indicates the importance of each word separately. The analysis of each word cannot ignore the relevancy of other words; therefore, the aim is to combine the micro and macro level of analysis as much as possible.

  1. Libya is the most frequent term in the MoU; thus, its percentages reach (7.6%). Generally, the Libyan crisis threatens the national security of the northern Mediterranean neighboring countries. Malta and Italy have concluded several agreements and treaties with Libya since the last century. Nevertheless, Malta has signed agreements with Libya to combat illegal immigration. The data indicate that Libya is the most frequent word (7.6%). Thus, it is highly responsible for the illegal immigration crisis in Malta. However, other words that indicate instability and insecurity justify Libya’s inability to stem and eliminate illegal immigration alone.

Table: 2

Content Analysis of the MoU between Malta and Libya, 2020

Percents Frequencies Words
7.6 13 Libya
7.2 12 Malta
7.2 12 Memorandum
6.4 11 Government
4.1 7 Centers
4.1 7 National
3.5 6 Termination
2.9 5 Parties
2.9 5 Signed
2.3 4 Support
1.8 3 Amendment
1.8 3 Annex
1.8 3 Channels
1.8 3 Consolidate
1.8 3 Convention
1.8 3 Dispute
1.8 3 Enforcement
1.8 3 European
1.8 3 GNA
1.8 3 Implementation
1.8 3 International
1.8 3 Operation
1.8 3 Region
1.8 3 Signature
1.1 2 Coordination
1.1 2 Countries
1.1 2 Illegal
1.1 2 Immigration
1.1 2 Obligations
1.1 2 Revision
1.1 2 Security
20 32 Other Words
100 170 Total

Data Source: Memorandum of Understanding between Libya and Malta in the field of combating Illegal Immigration. May 28, 2020.

  1. Malta is the second frequent term (7.2%), which means it failed to achieve its national and regional goals. Thus, the MoU does not blame certain countries for the illegal immigration crisis. The MoU mentions the crucial role of the European Union and other European countries (1.8%) in securing the Libyan border to minimize the number of illegal immigration in Libya as much as possible.
  2. Other words indicate Malta and Libya, such as the governments (6.4%) of both countries (1.1%), national (4.1%), and parties (2.9%). The total of words frequencies that refers to Malta and Libya reaches more than 14.5% of the total (N = 170). These high frequencies mean that both countries share responsibility for combating human trafficking and other relevant problems, e.g., organized crimes and violations of human rights. The MoU aims in the first place to consolidate (1.8%) their historical relationship; therefore, their collaboration will achieve peace, security, and stability in the region. (the MoU’s Preamble)
  3. Despite Malta’s recognition of the two governments in Tobruk and Tripoli in 2015, the frequencies of GNA (1.8%) as a de jure recognized government is an indicator of dealing with one government instead of two different authorities. Furthermore, Turkey attempts to enlarge its alliance with GNA; therefore, Malta joins the triple meeting held in Ankara on July 20, 2020, and then in Tripoli on August 6, 2020, [9] to discuss coordination on regional defense, illegal immigration, and security in the Mediterranean region. (See Ozer, 2020) Malta attended the second meeting between Libya and Turkey in Tripoli (on August 2020). among the foreign ministers of Libya and Turkey. This meeting has resulted in a joint triple statement confirms, by and large, the main points of the MoU, e.g., combating illegal immigration, support the GNA, criticizing the IRINI operation due to its biased mission, dealing effectively with the roots of the immigration crisis, and establish a joint working team to translate the ideas into actions. Malta and Libya have the political will to fulfill the aims of MoU, and the GNA is gaining a new ally. (See Joint statement by the foreign ministers of Libya, Malta, and Turkey)
  4. The data show that the Coordination Centers was repeated seven times in the MoU (4.1%). Thus, the Coordination Centers are necessary to combat and monitor the illegal immigrants and refugees during their stay in Malta and Libya. However, many immigration Centers in both countries are not on the international required standards. During the war on Tripoli, illegal immigration detention was stroked by a jet fighter and injured and killed around 120 refugees. (See INFOMIGRANTS, 2019) Additionally, Malta and Libya were accused of violation of human rights in the detention camps. Although Malta and Libya signed the Universal Declaration of the Human Rights “UDHRs” of 1948, there is no mention of the human rights term per se in the MoU’s text.[10] The Coordination Centers in Valletta and Tripoli are establishing to deal with immigrants and refugees according to the Human Rights Declaration of 1948. Yet, DeBono (2013) argues that Malta violated human rights in immigration Centers. He said, “Almost all irregular immigrants to Malta are indiscriminately detained on arrival for up to eighteen months in deplorable conditions – unsanitary and overcrowded.” (DeBono, 2013: 61) Malta depends on the European Union (1.8%) on financial support (2.3%) of the Coordination Centers, so the GNA can secure the southern borders and take the necessary steps “…for the interception and follow-up of human trafficking activities in the search and rescue region in the Mediterranean basin.” (Article 5) In short, financing Coordination Centers in Valletta and Tripoli will speed the process of managing the legal status of illegal immigrants in [11]
  5. The MoU has concluded according to the rules and principles of international law (1.8%). The MoU stresses the importance of both parties’ obligations (1.1%) regarding other conventions (1.8%) signed by either country, e.g., the UNDHRs, and the 1951 Refugee Convention. Furthermore, the MoU stresses in Article (6) that it is not directing towards the national interests and territorial integrity, and security of any other countries.
  6. The Maltese-Libyan coordination (1.1%) and cooperation (0.6%) in combating illegal (1.1%) immigration (1.1%) will enhance peace (0.6%), security (0.6%), and stability (1.1%) in the Mediterranean region (2.3%). Both Malta and Libya view illegal immigration as a threat to peace and security in the region; therefore, two operations Centers are creating to deal practically with this dilemma.
  7. The high frequency of the MoU (7.2%) refers to the conclusion of an executive agreement between two governments. It is an inter-governmental treaty that deals with technical aspects and joint problems. (See Starke, 1989: 439) The two Coordination Centers (4.1%) and the officials’ appointment (0.6%) are technical matters that reflect trustworthiness and efficiency. The executive nature of MoU does not necessarily require the ratification of the parliaments in Valletta and Tripoli; thus, Article (10) does not mention such a process. (See Sweeney, 1981) Furthermore, the communication and diplomatic channels (1.8%) are adopting means to any settlement of disputes (Article 7), revision and amendment (Article 8), validity expiry, and termination (Article 9). The memory of legal conflict regarding the Continental Shelf case before the International Court of Justice (in 1985), and the executive nature of the MoU, led both countries to avoid judicial settlement of disputes regarding their MoU to combat illegal immigration.
  8. Further analysis shows that many words repeating only one time in the MoU’s text due to its technicality and clearance. The validity (0.6%), ratification (0.6%), original copies (0.6%), and the expiration (0.6%) of the MoU are examples of technical terms regarding the duration of the MoU. However, other low frequent words reflect crucial dimensions, such as peace, stability, cooperation, combating, commercial activities, national laws, common goals, third party, and negotiation. Focus on combat illegal immigration as the main goal is resulting in many low-frequency words. Combating irregular immigration by both countries leads to the security and peace of their peoples. Libyan-Maltese peoples share historical relationships and welfare. The MoU between the two governments takes is consistent with the United Nations Charter and national laws on the one hand, and it is not directing to a third party and other states on the other hand. In short, each word is relevant to the MoU on the micro and macro levels. However, there are significant words did not mention directly by the MoU, such as human rights. The term human rights not mentioned in the text. Yet, the creations of Coordination Centers are usually connecting with human rights violation behavior by both parties. (See DeBono, 2013)


         As officially called, the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of National Accord of the State of Libya and the Government of the Republic of Malta in the field of combating illegal immigration is a further step towards consolidating the historical relations between the two countries in the third decade of the new Millennium. The main aim of the MoU is to deal effectively with the crisis of illegal immigration through establishing Coordination Centers in Malta and Libya simultaneously. The Coordination Centers enables both countries to manage the immigration crisis according to their common interests and norms of international conventions in this regard. Yet, content analysis of the MoU leads to the following conclusions:

  1. The MoU is an extension of previous bilateral arrangements that represented more than twenty concluded agreements between Malta and Libya since the late 1960s.
  2. The political and legal agreements, e.g., the MoU, between both countries reflect the institutionalizing bilateral relations between Malta and Libya since the late 1960s.
  3. The MoU is an executive agreement aim to fulfill technical goals by establishing Coordination Centers and monitor the border, to combat illegal immigration influx.
  4. Political means of settling disputes and diplomatic channels are preferable for both parties.
  5. Creating Coordination Centers in Valletta and Tripoli to deal effectively with illegal immigration is a means to deal effectively with the migration crisis.
  6. The MoU may succeed in managing the immigration crisis by securing the Libyan border and establish Coordination Centers. But it did not deal with a radical solution to the dilemma. Any solution to the immigration crisis requires political stability and economic development for Libya and other exporting countries of migration.
  7. Libya’s instability and crisis affect the national security of its neighbors, e.g., Malta and Italy. The internal war and the division of political institutions weaken the central government in Libya; thus, the number of illegal immigrants landing on the Maltese and Italian seashores has increased noticeably.
  8. The Libyan-Maltese commit themselves to the principles and norms of international law. Thus, their newly Coordination Centers should have efficient and effective mechanisms to avoid human rights violations.
  9. Although the MoU deals with the illegal immigration crisis within the three coming years or more, Libya may not fulfill its obligations in the short run. Only a central Libyan government supported regionally and internationally can control its long border and decrease the level of illegal immigrants who attend to reach the Maltese seashores.
  10. The political will of decision-makers in both countries is a necessary component to combat illegal immigration. Collaboration among states and regional organizations is the first step to manage the migration crisis, e.g., the European Union and the African Union. The impact of poverty and national and global mafia are reasons for the immigration crisis. Thus, coordination and collaboration are the first steps in the journey of a free world of illegal immigration.

The findings of this study are dealing with the three raising questions that mentioning in the introduction. Firstly, the MoU stresses the importance of collaboration with the European Union and Italy in combating illegal migration because neither Malta nor Libya can manage and solve such a complicated crisis alone. Further coordination with global and regional organizations, e.g., the African Union, is stressing in this regard. Secondly, the MoU is a bilateral agreement that is involving the collaboration of the European Union. The European Union supports Libyan-Maltese efforts to combat illegal immigration financially and technically. The MoU effects extend to regional and international actors, such as the European Union, human rights movements, governmental and non-governmental organizations.

The previous results indicate that MoU affects the bilateral relations between Malta and Libya. The bilateral relations between the two countries enhance their geostrategically ties in the age of globalization. Malta does not only combat illegal immigration crises that weaken the GNA but is obligated to ask the European Union for financial support and technical assistance to monitor and secure the long Libyan border. The MoU is open for further arrangements by both countries in the new century. The real future MoU’s impact on the influx of illegal immigrants, who reach the Maltese coasts, may be noticed in late 2020 and the beginning of 2021. Thus, further studies in this regard are demanding by social scientists. Malta also has the Turkish’s support to combat the illegal immigration crisis. a topic that requires further scientific research.


Boissevain, Jeremy. 1991. “Ritual, Play, and Identity: Changing Patterns of Celebration in Maltese Villages.” Journal of Mediterranean Studies. Vol. (1): 87-100.

Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. July 28, 1951. Geneva, United Nations Treaty Collection.

Cherkaoui, Mohammed. 2017. “Libya’s Modern Slavery and the Politics of Denial.” Arab Center Washington DC. (December 18).

DeBono, Daniela. 2013. “‘Less than Human’: the Detention of Irregular Immigration in Malta” Race and Class Vol. 52 (2): 60-81.

Draft Strategy Document: Strategy for the Reception of Asylum Seekers and Irregular Migrants. 2014. Migration Policy. Malta: Ministry for Home Affairs and National Security.

Hamood, Sara. 2006. “African Transit Migration Trough Libya to Europe: the Human Cost.” Forced Migration and Refugee Studies. Cairo: the American University.

Hill, Christopher. 2003. The Changing Politics of Foreign Policy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

INFOMIGRANTS. 2019.  “Air Strike Hits Libya Migrant Detention Center”. (3-7-2019).

Irregular Immigrants, Refugees, and Integration: Policy Document. Ministry for Justice and Home Affairs, and Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity.

Joint statement by the foreign ministers of Libya, Malta, and Turkey. Reference Number: PR201507, Press Release Issue Date: August 06, 2020.,-Malta,-and-Turkey.aspx

Karen, Bjorn. 2008. Malta and Immigration: Sovereignty, Territory, and Identity. Ph. D. LUND University.

Kinsley, Patrick, and Haley Willis. 2020. “Latest Tactic to Push Migrants from Europe? A Private, Clandestine Fleet.” The New York Times. (April 30).

Libya versus Malta. 1984. Case concerning the Continental Shelf.  International Court of Justice Reports (March 21),

Malta-Libya Treaty of Friendship and Co-operation (Ratification) Act. 1984. December 7.

“Malta Considering Reopening Embassy in Tripoli,” Corporate Dispatch.Com. (June 19, 2019).

Memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the fields: development, the fight against illegal immigration, human trafficking, and fuel smuggling, and on reinforcing the security of borders between the State of Libya and the Italian Republic. 2017. February (2)

Memorandum of Understanding Between the Government of National Accord of the State of Libya and the Government of the Republic of Malta in the Field of Combatting Illegal Immigration. 2020. (May 28)

Migration and Migrant Population Statistics. 2020. Brussels: the EU.

“New Long-Term Support for Displaced Populations in Africa.” 2016. The World Bank. (May 31).

Ozer, Sarp. 2020. “Turkish, Libyan and Maltese Ministers Meet in Ankara: Possible Cooperation on Regional Defence, Security Discussed in Trilateral Meeting.” AA (20-7-2020).

Potter, David, et. al., 2001. Democratization. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Scicluna, Aaron. 2013. “A decade of Malta-Palestine relations, 1999-2009: insights for policy-makers.” Ph. D. FacEMAPP.

 Sophia Operation. European Union External Action.

Starke, J. G. 1989. Introduction to International Law. London: Butterworths.

Statement of Treaties and International Agreements Registered or Filed and Recorded with the Secretariat during March 1970. 1970. New York: United Nations.

Sweeny, Joseph M., et. al., 1981. Cases and Materials on the International Legal System. Mineola, NY: The Foundation Press, INC.

The 1951 Refugee Convention. 1951. (the UN Refugee Agency.

Trading Economics: Malta Imports by Country. 2019.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 1948. New York: United Nations.

Vella, Joanna, et. al., 2018. “Tracing Maltese Genetic Origins,” Research Gate (December).

Wikiwand. Libya-Malta relations.

[1]– Data on immigration in Libya and the other North African countries indicates that there are illegal immigrants from many Arab countries, e.g., Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, and Syria. (See Migration and Migrant Population Statistics, 2020)

[2]– Malta is a Southern European country, and its history as a European nation is extending more than nine hundred years. Yet, Malta has strong cultural ties with the Arab World since the Middle Ages. Kaddafi had argued once that the Maltese were originally Phoenicians and not European. Human migration in history is a well-known phenomenon; thus, a pure origin nation is out of the question. In short, these dual identities are noticeable for historians and political scientists. See (Boissevain, 1991). In this regard, Vella (2018) confirms the absence of the Maltese people’s pure origin when he said, “Maltese are descendants from those who re-populated the islands at the turn of the first millennium AD.”

[3] – The Agreements that institutionalize the Maltese-Libyan bilateral relations besides the Friendship Treaty are “Economic, Scientific and Technical Collaboration Agreement signed in Valletta on the 31st of May 1968. A Trade Agreement was signed in Valletta on the 31st of May 1968. The Loan Agreement was signed in Tripoli, August 1971. The Entry and Exit Visas Agreement was signed in Valletta on the 9th of July 1972. The cultural Agreement was signed in Tripoli on the 5th of October, 1972. Agreement on the Participation of Maltese Contracting Companies in the Execution of Housing Projects in Libya signed in Tripoli on the 5th of October, 1972. Agreement for the Avoidance of Double Taxation concerning Taxes on Income signed in Tripoli on the 5th of October 1972. An Agreement for the Encouragement of the Movement of Capital for Investment was signed in Valletta on the 8th of February, 1973. Agreement to Supply Malta with Refined/Crude Oil signed in Tripoli on the 28th of April 1975. Agreement for the Establishment of a Holding Company signed in Tripoli on the 19th of May, 1975. Agreement on Broadcasting signed in Valletta on the 20th of June 1975. The Loan Agreement was signed in Valletta on the 29th of July 1975. Special Agreement for the submission to the International Court of Justice of Difference signed in Valletta on the 23rd of May 1976. Manpower Agreement was signed in Tripoli on the 27th of May 1978. Agreement for the Establishment of a Maltese/Libyan Fishing Company signed in Tripoli on the 17th of July 1978. Co-operation Agreement was signed in Valletta on the 10th of August 1984 and its amendments of the 24th of September 1985 and the 30th of March 1988. The co-operation Agreement between Telemalta Corporation and the Libyan Jamahiriya Broadcasting was signed in Valletta on the 19th of August 1984. Trade Agreement was signed in Tripoli on the 19th of December 1984. Agreement for Regulating scheduled air services between and beyond their respective territories signed in Tripoli on the 15th of January 1985. Agreement on Co-operation signed in Valletta on the 5th of November 1985. Agreement implementing Article III of the Special Agreement and the Judgement of the International Court of Justice signed in Valletta on the 10th of November 1986. The Agreement on Social Security has been signed in Valletta on the 6th of May 1988. Agreement on the setting up of a joint venture company to operate and run supermarkets at the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya signed in Valletta on the 28th of October 1988.” (See in this regard the Annex of the Treaty of Friendship: 6-7; and the Statement of Treaties and International Agreements web for 1970 agreements)

[4]– The International Court of Justice decided in this regard that: “The principles and rules of international law can in practice be adopted by both Parties to achieve an equitable result, taking account of the physical factors and al1 the other relevant circumstances of this case, by agreement on a delimitation within, and following the general direction of, the Rift Zone as defined in the Libyan Memorial.” (See Libya versus Malta, p. 115)

[5] – Scicluna concluded in his study (2013) that “Malta’s foreign policy towards Palestine remains stable and favorable towards Palestine.”

[6] – Italy concluded a Treaty of Friendship with Kaddafi in 2008 and a Memorandum of Understanding to combat illegal migration in 2017. Italy suggests developing the MoU of 2017 to a new one that concerning the protection of illegal immigration. While Italy and Malta signed the Treaty of protecting refugees of 1951, Libya is not a party to this convention.

[7] – Libya is a trade partner for Malta. Malta exports to Libya in 2019 reached 129.03 million. See for more details in this regard: Trading Economics at  <>

[8] – Malta deals with illegal migration as a threat to its national security and resists human trafficking at the same time. (See Irregular Immigrants, Refugees, and Integration: Policy Document)

[9] – The meeting of foreign ministers held in Tripoli on August 6, 2020, to discuss the Libyan crisis and collaboration among Malta, Libya, and Turkey. Turkey and Malta reassure their support to the GNA and the political settlement to the Libyan conflict, and their reservation on the IRINI Operation. The joint statement by the foreign ministers of the three states has been agreed on the return of Maltese and Turkish companies to Libya, resumption of air flights between Libya and Malta, the threat of illegal immigration to the European Union and Libya, the necessity of securing the southern border of Libya by providing the GNA with required technologies, helping the exporting countries of refugees in Africa, and finally, establishing a joint working team represent the three countries to translate decision “into concrete and practical projects.” (See the Joint statement by the foreign ministers of Libya, Malta, and Turkey)

[10] – There is an accusation of returning illegal immigrants to Libya by private vessels supporting by the Maltese government. (See in this regard, Kingsley and Willis, 2020)

[11]– In November 2017, a CNN report indicated abuse endured by migrants and refugees across Libya. The Libyan authorities denied the existence of the slave market on the one hand and recognized the mafia abuse affairs on the other hand. Cherkaoui ( 2017) accused the European countries of rejecting the entry of illegal migrants to their territories. He argues that Malta and Italy shared the heaviest burden of the immigration dilemma by providing humanitarian assistance to the landed migrants. (Cherkaoui, 2017)

5/5 - (2 صوتين)

المركز الديمقراطى العربى

المركز الديمقراطي العربي مؤسسة مستقلة تعمل فى اطار البحث العلمى والتحليلى فى القضايا الاستراتيجية والسياسية والاقتصادية، ويهدف بشكل اساسى الى دراسة القضايا العربية وانماط التفاعل بين الدول العربية حكومات وشعوبا ومنظمات غير حكومية.

مقالات ذات صلة

اترك تعليقاً

لن يتم نشر عنوان بريدك الإلكتروني. الحقول الإلزامية مشار إليها بـ *

زر الذهاب إلى الأعلى