More than 400 migrants disembarked in Malta overnight Saturday (6 June) from four tourist boats in an about-face by the government that allowed them to land after nearly 40 days onboard.
The 425 migrants, who had been picked up in the Mediterranean during various rescue operations, had been in limbo since April on the chartered boats held outside Maltese waters.
Finally! The 400+ migrants who have been illegally detained on floating prisons outside Malta’s territorial waters are being disembarked in Malta!
— aditus foundation (@aditusNGO) June 6, 2020
Malta had refused them entry, pointing to the closure of its ports due to the coronavirus emergency and also to its full detention centres.
But in an about-face late on Saturday, Malta’s government said it was not prepared “to endanger lives of both the migrants and the crew, due the lack of solidarity shown by European Union member states in terms of relocation.”
“No European country accepted these migrants despite talk of solidarity,” the government said in a statement.
Home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson called on EU member countries to take in some of the 400 migrants stranded on boats off-shore Malta.
Sources told AGI news service that the decision was taken because the crew feared for their safety, with the government saying the situation became “very difficult and commotions arose.”
In the late hours of Saturday and early Sunday, the boats docked at Boiler Wharf in Senglea and the migrants disembarked. It was not immediately clear where they were taken.
Malta had come under fire from humanitarian groups for holding the migrants on the tourist boats, which are not designed for lengthy stays.
One group, crisis hotline Alarm Phone, wrote on Facebook last month that a migrant aboard one of the boats had said that some had attempted suicide, some were on hunger strike, and that there was an outbreak of skin diseases.
Malta has repeatedly complained that indifference from its European neighbours means that it has taken in an unfair share of the wave of migrants who reach its shores by sea, mostly from war-torn Libya.
Malta said negotiations were ongoing over relocations to other European countries, while repatriations would come “within days” in cases where asylum requests were rejected.
Last week, Malta and Libya’s unity government signed a memorandum of understanding to open migrant coordination centres in Tripoli and Valletta, paid for by Malta.