Malta can no longer guarantee the rescue of migrants or allow their disembarkation during the coronavirus emergency, the Malta government said on Thursday (9 April).
It said the decision had been taken because its resources were stretched by the enforcement of measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus, as well as the risk that the migrants themselves may be carrying the virus.
The announcement came 24 hours after Italy closed its own harbours, saying its ports could not longer be considered safe because of the pandemic.
“It is in the interest and responsibility of such people not to endanger themselves on a risky voyage to a country which is not in a position to offer them a secure harbour,” Malta’s government said.
The decision by Italy and Malta came as the German Sea-Eye migrant aid group said its rescue vessel Alan Kurdi had picked up 150 people from two wooden boats off the coast of Libya on Monday. With the two closest European countries closed, it is unclear where they will be taken.
The Maltese government said that over the years Malta had been under immense pressure and had rescued thousands of migrants “with little tangible help”.
The government also published a statement it is sending to the European Commission, explaining the situation.
“In the light of the magnitude of these pressures, it is considered that the Maltese authorities are not in a position to guarantee the rescue of prohibited immigrants on board of any boats, ships or other vessels, nor to ensure the availability of a ‘safe place’ on the Maltese territory to any persons rescued at sea,” the statement read.