VALLETTA (Reuters): Malta will allow 49 migrants who have been stranded at sea for weeks to disembark in Valletta, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Wednesday, adding that they will then be re-distributed among eight European Union countries. The Sea-Watch 3, a vessel run by a German humanitarian group, plucked 32 people from an unsafe boat off the coast of Libya on Dec. 22. Another German charity, Sea-Eye, rescued 17 others on Dec. 29.
They have both been sailing back in forth in Maltese waters for days after Italy, Malta and all other EU countries refused to offer them a port of safety. “The migrants will be transferred from the ships to Maltese patrol boats and brought to Malta. The rescue boats will then be told to leave Maltese waters,” Muscat told reporters. He said an agreement had also been reached for 249 other migrants brought to Malta by its military patrol boats in December to be redistributed around the EU or sent back to their country of origin.
The vast majority of the total of almost 300 migrants will be shared among Germany, France, Portugal, Ireland, Romania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Italy and Malta, Muscat said. The remainder, including 44 Bangladeshis, will be sent home. After the long stand-off during which the humanitarian groups warned of growing physical and psychological distress among the migrants, signs that a deal was close increased this week.
On Tuesday, Germany said it was willing to take in 50 migrants as long as other European countries also helped out, and the Netherlands also indicated it was willing to welcome some. Italy’s government has appeared divided, with anti-immigrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini refusing to host a single migrant while Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte offered to take in a small portion as long as Malta let the ships dock. Salvini, leader of the right-wing League party, on Wednesday expressed his annoyance with the solution that appeared to have been found. “Giving in to the pressures and the threats of Europe and NGOs is a sign of weakness which the Italians do not deserve,” he said in a statement.