By Mick Krever, CNN
“We are building a cemetery within our Mediterranean Sea.”
That’s the stark warning from the prime minister of the tiny island nation of Malta, Joseph Muscat, whose country is a key transit point in the perilous journey for immigrants from North Africa to Europe.
“Europe is not taking decisive action to help us front-liners – ourselves, Italy, Greece – save more lives,” Muscat told CNN’s Hala Gorani, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.
Two weeks ago, 350 people died off the Italian island of Lampedusa, another major transit point.
And now Malta, which sits in between Lampedusa and Sicily, has become a destination for those fleeing Syria’s bloody civil war.
Over the past two decades, 20 thousand people have died trying to make the journey from North Africa to Europe.
Muscat is calling on Europeans to show more solidarity with countries on the “front line” – just as his country, he said, showed solidarity with the rest of Europe during the financial crisis.
“We're not exactly a military superpower,” Muscat told Gorani. “It is quite exceptional that it is up to us and a couple of other countries to see through and rescue hundreds of people per year – hundreds of desperate people fleeing first from Somalia, Eritrea, now even Syria.”
Malta is the smallest member of the European Union.
“I wouldn't want to believe that for Europe, money is more important than people.”
Malta itself, however, has come under fire from the U.N. and human rights groups for its detention of immigrants, and the European Council of Human Rights has issued three judgements against the country.
“You know, no one comes with a passport or with an identity card or a driving license,” Muscat said. “So unless there is a detention period, it is impossible for us to make sure that amongst those genuine people who are fleeing from war, there isn't some threat to security.”
There is no real alternative to detention if Malta, a European Union member, is to pick out potential threats.
“When it comes to conditions, yes, we have to improve, we have to do more,” he told Gorani. “But we're being left alone.”
Many immigrants come to Europe fleeing conflict in their homelands. In Libya, which has been without a functioning government since the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi, has been rife with chaos.
Muscat said that countries like Libya must play a role in a solution, not just be seen as part of the problem.
“I was in Libya just ten days ago, just after the prime minister was kidnapped; I had a long chat with him,” Muscat said. “There needs to be a better interface between Europe – the rest of the world, really – and this country, not to let it become a failed state.”
Muscat spoke to Gorani from Brussels, where he was attended an E.U. summit.
The topic attracting the most buzz at that meeting was not the immigration crisis, but rather German allegations that the U.S. had spied on Chancellor Angela’s Merkel’s personal mobile phone.
(White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday that the U.S. “is not monitoring and will not monitor” her communications.)
“I do believe that we are essentially two sides of the same coin,” Muscat said of Europe and America. “But – that's a huge but – allies and friends don't snoop on each other.”