Dozens of migrants stuck on a ship since their rescue in the Mediterranean 10 days ago, arrived in Malta on Saturday after four European countries agreed to take them in.
And as Italy’s hardline interior minister expressed satisfaction at having kept the country’s borders closed to the migrants, Malta expressed frustration at being confronted with the problem again.
All 62 migrants still on the German-flagged ship Alan Kurdi boarded Maltese naval vessels, which brought them to Valletta, where they were to join two women evacuated last week for medical reasons.
The migrants are to be “redistributed between #Germany, #France, #Portugal and #Luxembourg,” Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced on Twitter.
“None will remain in Malta which cannot shoulder this burden alone,” he added.
On Friday, French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said Paris and other EU partners would “show solidarity” towards the migrants, who include 12 women and two children aged one and six.
The group was rescued on April 3 from a barely seaworthy vessel off Libya, and brought to the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Sea-Eye chairman Gorden Isler denounced the time it had taken to find a compromise. “It is simply not explainable why it was necessary for people to stay on board during the long negotiations while governments negotiated 64 individual fates,” he said.
But Italy’s hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini refused them entry. Berlin should take the migrants as they had been rescued by a German NGO, Sea Eye, he said.
“It’s their problem, they must deal with it,” Salvini said, adding he had personally written to the ship’s captain to warn him the vessel must not enter Italian territorial waters.
On Saturday, Salvini, of the far-right League party, expressed satisfaction at the outcome.
“As promised, no immigrant from this German NGO (ship) will arrive in Italy. They will go to Germany or elsewhere,” he tweeted.
“The Maltese are right to denounce the danger of the NGOs – we stand beside them in the fight against human traffickers,” added Salvini, who last month insisted Italian ports would be closed to migrant rescue NGOs operating in the Mediterranean to force other EU states to take them in.
Valletta expressed frustration at being caught in the middle.
“Once again, the European Union’s smallest state has been put under pointless pressure in being tasked with resolving an issue which was neither its responsibility nor its remit…,” the Maltese government complained in a statement.
“Malta calls on the NGOs to abide by all applicable conventions and regulations.”
Italy, with EU support, has also since 2017 been training the Libyan coast guard to intercept boats as part of a controversial deal that has seen migrant arrivals to Italy drop sharply.
Last month, Malta received 108 migrants aboard a Palau-flagged tanker hijacked by three young Africans who diverted the boat from Libya.
Although many ships hired by humanitarian organisations have been blocked in ports for judicial or administrative reasons, the Italian group Mediterranean said Saturday that its ship Mare Jonio was ready to set off on a rescue mission.
A total of 356 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).