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Malta urges EU to tackle North Africa migrants

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(VILNIUS) - Maltese President George Abela on Tuesday urged the European Union to take further steps to tackle illegal immigration from North Africa, an issue significantly affecting his tiny Mediterranean nation.

"North Africa is still not settled, the situation there not yet stabilised, and that will undoubtedly affect our island," Abela warned, referring to the wave of uprisings and political upheaval that started last year.

Abela said Malta -- which a population of 413,000 -- recently experienced a huge influx of migrants, with over 200 arriving on the country's shores last weekend alone, swelling an existing contingent of around 5,000.

"That in itself has put pressure on the Maltese economy because we do not have the administrative capacity to handle these immigrants," Abela told journalists during a visit to Lithuania.

The president said he expected fellow EU countries would take in more refugees to share the burden, insisting the European Commission should create a permanent mechanism to tackle the issue.

Abela said Europe could take its cue from the United States which he said had absorbed 1,000 refugees in recent years when the EU only took in a few hundred.

Since 2002, around 15,000 migrants have arrived in Malta, which became an EU member in 2004. The nation consists of seven Mediterranean islands, four of which are uninhabited.

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