Friday 23 August 2019

Malta opens port to migrant rescue ship after EU deal

Rescued migrants on the Aquarius wait to allowed into Malta: Photo: Reuters
Rescued migrants on the Aquarius wait to allowed into Malta: Photo: Reuters

Stephen Calleja and Barry Hatton

Malta has agreed to let a private rescue ship dock on the island after it was agreed the 141 migrants it is carrying would be sent to five fellow EU nations in a "responsibility-sharing exercise".

The migrants were plucked to safety by the aid boat Aquarius in two separate operations in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya on Friday. The boat was reported to be about 50km from Malta yesterday afternoon when the deal was announced.

"Malta will be making a concession allowing the vessel to enter its ports, despite having no legal obligation to do so," the Maltese government said.

Malta would serve as a logistical base and all the migrants aboard distributed among France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain.

Previously this summer Malta had allowed another private aid group's rescue vessel to dock, also on condition other nations took the migrants, although in that case Malta also agreed to take some.

Malta also noted on Monday it had rescued 114 people at sea, with 60 of them destined to go to other EU nations.

Aquarius had been waiting for safe harbour after appealing to Italy and Malta.

Italy's new populist government is refusing to allow any private rescue ships to dock, saying the country has done more than its share by allowing some 600,000 rescued migrants to disembark in previous years.

Malta said the dilemma over the fate of the migrants saved by Aquarius was resolved following French-Maltese discussions, and the agreement "with the support of the European Commission" to participate in a "responsibility-sharing exercise".

Italy's ruling coalition, which includes an anti-migrant party, has been lobbying for co-operation since it took power in June.

French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted thanks for Malta's humanitarian gesture and offered France's full solidarity. "There's no alternative to co-operation," Mr Macron said.

Portugal, which will take 30 of those aboard Aquarius, was the first country to say it could take in some of the migrants, after officials in Mediterranean areas of France made impassioned pleas to their government to allow the boat to dock there. Spain has agreed to take 60.

Operating Aquarius are two French aid groups, SOS Méditerranée and Médécins Sans Frontières, who said that many aboard were weak and malnourished.

Irish Independent

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