Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 January 2020

Migrants disembark after three weeks at sea in rescue boats

Eight EU countries have agreed to take in the 49 migrants

The 49 rescued migrants were stranded at sea since last month. AP
The 49 rescued migrants were stranded at sea since last month. AP

A deal has been brokered to allow 49 migrants stranded on two rescue boats in the Mediterranean to disembark, Malta’s prime minister has said.

Eight EU nations have agreed to take in varying numbers of the 49 people on the SeaWatch3 and the Albrecht Penck boats, some of whom have been at sea since December 22.

Germany, France, Portugal, Ireland, Romania, Luxembourg,the Netherlands and Italy will take in the migrants after they are transferred from the boats onto Maltese military vessels to bring them ashore. SeaWatch3 and the Albrecht Penck will not be permitted to dock.

“Malta is a very small country. It is in our nature is to assist those in distress,” said Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. “But as Prime Minister, I cannot shirk the responsibility of safeguarding Malta’s national security.”

“Everyone, Member States and NGOs, should follow the appropriate rules, rather than acting of their own volition and then expecting others to solve the problems they create.”

He added that this case should not set a precedent for future rescued migrants.

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said Wednesday that "the past weeks have not been Europe's finest hour."

Mr Avramopoulos said the fact that some of the migrants had to wait at sea for three weeks "is not what the European Union stands for."

He underlined that Europe can't count "on disorganized, ad hoc solutions" to manage such cases, and he called for the long-stalled reform of EU asylum rules to be concluded.

EU rules oblige countries where migrants first land to process any asylum claims, placing a heavy burden on Mediterranean states like Italy, Greece, Spain and Malta.

Maltese MEP Miriam Dalli praised her country for taking responsibility for solving the crisis, but chastised other EU nations who were slow to help.

“What’s happening in the Med should not be our burden to carry, it should be shared,” she wrote on Twitter.

“Another tragedy has been avoided, but the question remains: what about those who didn’t lift a finger to help?”

As well as taking in the migrants stranded on the boats, EU nations have also agreed to welcome a further 131 migrants rescued from the sea by Maltese armed forces and facilitate the return of those not eligible for asylum.

Updated: January 9, 2019 09:07 PM