Stranded NGO boat migrants land in Malta after latest EU stand-off

Valletta (dpa) – A group of 62 migrants stranded at sea for 11 days landed in Malta on Saturday night, bringing an end to another political spat which humanitarian organisations say underlines European Union failures. Media footage showed the migrants, who had been stranded on the Alan Kurdi charity vessel, disembark unassisted upon arrival in Malta. Malta only agreed to allow the migrants on land after Germany, France, Portugal and Luxembourg each said they would take in some of them. Sixty-four migrants were rescued near the Libyan shore on April 3 by the vessel belonging to the German non-governmental organization (NGO) Sea-Eye, which was originally denied a port docking in Italy or Malta.

Earlier this week, two migrant women were evacuated from the boat for medical reason. The same happened overnight for a crew member. On Saturday morning, the Maltese government announced the stalemate had been resolved and all the migrants – the 62 still aboard the Alan Kurdi and the two evacuees – would be transferred to four other EU countries following coordination with the European Commission. Germany’s Interior Ministry said it could take up to 26 people, writing on Twitter that Germany had “raised its acceptance level.” On Friday, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner pledged to welcome 20 refugees. The Maltese government stressed that “none of the migrants will remain in Malta,” and kept the Alan Kurdi away from its shores. Migrants landed on the island after they were transferred from the NGO boat to a Maltese navy vessel.

In a statement, Sea-Eye said it was inexplicable why it was necessary for the people to remain on board during the long negotiations, while governments haggled over the fate of the 64 migrants. The NGO lashed out at EU states for empowering an insufficient Libyan coast guard to deal with the problem, thus contributing towards deaths in the Mediterranean. “If you give Libya responsibility for a search and rescue zone, you have to be able to ensure that Libya can live up to that responsibility. At the moment this is not the case,” spokesman Gorden Isler said. “If Libya cannot exercise this competence, then Europe has created a search and rescue zone for which nobody is responsible any more.” There have been several stand-offs in the recent months between NGOs seeking to take rescued migrants to Europe and the governments of Italy and Malta, leading to migrants being stranded at sea for days, sometimes in dangerous sea conditions.

Malta and Italy have taken a hard line against migrant arrivals from North Africa, inflaming the bitter disagreement among EU countries about who should take responsibility for those rescued at sea. “Once again, the smallest member of the European Union was put under unnecessary pressure being asked to resolve a case which was neither its responsibility nor its remit,” the Maltese government said. Italy’s hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini credits his policies with a sharp drop in migrant crossings and a drop in deaths on the dangerous central Mediterranean route from Libya – although there are now more deaths per attempted crossing. Officials from the UN and the Council of Europe have pleaded with the EU to allow migrant rescue ships to carry out their missions. They have also asked the bloc to reconsider its support for the Libyan coast guard, due to grave abuses, including arbitrary detention and torture, that migrants face when returned to Libya.

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