Malta demands EU solution before migrants disembark

Migrants on board Sea Watch [seawatch_intl Twitter]

Malta is pushing other European countries to take in around 250 migrants in its care before it will allow dozens of people stuck on two rescue boats to disembark, a government source said Tuesday (8 January).

Some 49 migrants, rescued while attempting the dangerous Mediterranean crossing from north Africa to Europe, have been stranded off the coast of Malta on the Sea-Watch and another boat since December 22, with no country allowing them to dock.

The diplomatic deadlock among EU member states has not been resolved, despite Pope Francis’s appeal on Sunday for EU leaders to show solidarity.

Pope urges EU to show 'solidarity' with migrants stranded off Malta

Pope Francis on Sunday (6 January) urged EU leaders to show “concrete solidarity” with 49 migrants stranded on NGO ships off the coast of Malta who have been refused permission to land.

But on Tuesday Malta appeared to raise the stakes for those stranded still further.

A senior Malta government source said the island did not want a “short term” solution for those stranded at sea but “a more comprehensive and holistic solution”.

Resources on the island of 450,000 people are being “stretched” by the migrants already in detention centres, the source said, asking not to be named.

“Malta is looking at a solution that would see all rescued migrants redistributed among a number of countries that are willing to share the burden,” the source said.

The Sea-Watch and the Sea-Eye are carrying a total of 49 migrants, including a baby and a number of children.

“It’s day 18 for us being held hostage at sea by European governments,” Sea-Watch tweeted on Tuesday.

“The situation is tense but at least everyone’s eating again,” the German NGO said the day after some of the 32 migrants onboard refused food.

A European diplomatic source said France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands and Portugal had said they were ready to take in some of the migrants.

Romania, which currently holds the six-month rotating EU presidency, agreed to take in five migrants.

But both Italy and Malta have repeatedly refused port access to the rescue vessels and they have stuck to that position despite the pope’s intervention.

Plea for solidarity

Volunteers on Tuesday brought drinking water, couscous, fruit and vegetables to the boats, with the migrants kept off the decks for fear they might jump on the supply boat or into the sea.

European Commission spokeswoman Margaritis Schinas said on Tuesday that “intensive contacts” were underway between EU nations to find a solution.

“Member states need now to show concrete solidarity,” Schinas said. “People on board need to be disembarked safely and without further delay.”

The European diplomatic source said that EU countries had offered to receive more than the 49 people on the two boats, but not the nearly 300 migrants as demanded by Malta.

In the eastern Mediterranean, Cypriot authorities said they had picked up 31 Syrian migrants who had been dropped off by smugglers on a remote part of the island after arriving by boat.

The migrants, who are seeking asylum, were processed by police and transferred to a reception centre in the capital Nicosia.

The Syrians — 27 men, 3 children and one woman — told police that they had each paid $2,500-$3,000 in cash to be brought to Cyprus.

And a 24-year-old migrant from Cameroon died early Tuesday at a migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos.

The cause of death is not yet known but aid groups and the UN refugee agency have for months highlighted the unhealthy conditions at island’s Moria camp.

Greece's Moria migrant camp faces closure over public health fears

Greece’s biggest migrant camp faces closure next month unless authorities clean up “uncontrollable amounts of waste”, the regional governor said, citing public health risks.

Subscribe to our newsletters