Pope Francis will be visiting Malta this weekend. The refugee exodus of Ukraine from Ukraine is a disturbing backdrop to the European migration drama. For years, the focus has been on Malta and other Mediterranean countries as well as the desperate situation of those who seek refuge on boats.

Given Malta’s central position in Europe’s refugee discussion and Francis’ repeated calls for countries to stand with those fleeing poverty and war, Francis’ two-day trip to the Mediterranean island country was expected to be focused on migration.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and forced exodus 4 million Ukrainians — half of whom are children — have given Francis’ trip a new impetus. It was originally planned for May 2020, but was delayed by the pandemic.

Many in Malta believe there is a double standard in the conflict in Ukraine. This includes European refugee norms as well as the willingness of European countries and other European countries to accept newcomers.

According to the 2003 Dublin Regulation, all EU countries where refugees arrive must process asylum applications. This places a huge burden on countries like Malta, Italy, and Greece that host migrants as the process unfolds.

This rule was thrown out by the Ukraine exodus. The EU adopted a temporary protection directive for the first-ever time, allowing Ukrainians to relocate anywhere within the bloc of 27 nations. While most have remained in Poland, many others have moved onward to locate family members elsewhere in Europe.

“The Dublin rule has been kind of ignored, and rightly so because there’s an unprecedented situation that requires flexibility,” stated Charles Scicluna, Archbishop of Malta. We would like to see more flexibility in emergency situations in the Mediterranean.

Scicluna stated that he expected Francis would raise the issue of migration in a telephone interview. This was mainly because of the warm welcome Malta gave to Apostle Paul around AD 60 while he was on his way to Rome. According to the Bible, Paul was shown “unusual kindness” by Maltese people — the kind of welcome Francis said he wanted to extend to all migrants.

Francis will meet with migrants who are staying in shelters on Sunday at the end his visit.

Rescue groups have often criticized Malta for not allowing migrants from Libya to enter. It claims that Malta has one of the highest rates of processing asylum applications for first-time in the EU relative to its population and often urges other European countries not to refuse to accept them.

According to U.N and EU data, 832 migrants arrived by ship last year. This is a 63% decline from the previous year. There are currently 4,000 asylum applications for Malta.

A German aid group has urged Malta to accept 106 migrants from Libya. However, there was no indication that Malta would allow Sea-Eye access.

Dunja Mijatovic (Council of Europe’s Commissioner For Human Rights), insisted that Malta shouldn’t allow migrants to be lost at sea while they negotiated their fate. This was a violation of Malta’s obligations and risked lives.

Mijatovic demanded that Malta indict the murderers of Daphne Caruana Galizia (Maltaean journalist), who was killed when a car bomb detonated near her home on October 16, 2017. She was investigating the links between financial transactions indicated by leaked Panama Papers documents, prominent political and business figures of the small EU country.

Caruana Galizia was murdered, triggering international outrage. The European Parliament sent a fact-finding team to Malta. The culture of impunity emanating from the highest levels in government led to a public inquiry finding that the Maltese state had to take responsibility for the murder.

Francis could make reference to the killing, as he has long been critical of corruption in politics, even on frequent trips abroad.

Matteo Bruni, a Vatican spokesperson, said that Francis could refer to the killing or meet with Caruana Galizia’s relatives. Bruni stated that it was possible for themes to be confronted in different ways with words and encounters. During his foreign trips, Francis often holds private audiences. These are only confirmed after they have occurred.

Authorities in Malta have identified several suspects in this murder and are currently prosecuting them.

Nadia Delicata is the head of evangelization in Malta. She said that the assassination exposed divisions in Maltese society. Some Catholics nearly “canonized” the journalist. Others claim that such a polarizing figure should not have been there.

Delicata stated that the church, which had spoken out against the assassination strongly, may have subconsciously helped to bridge the gap by becoming more visible during the pandemic with daily televised Masses being broadcast into Maltese homes.

She told reporters that it helped to heal the “big divide” around Daphne’s memory.