EU presses Malta to Accept African Migrants at Sea

Migrants freshly arrived in at Delimara, Malta, 4 August
More than 100 migrants arrived in Malta on a dinghy on Sunday

The European Commission has urged Malta to allow 102 African migrants rescued from the sea by a tanker to enter its territory.  It said the EU state had a humanitarian duty to take in the migrants, who were rescued off the coast of Libya.

Among those rescued are an injured woman, four pregnant women and a five-month-old baby.  The Italian navy had asked the ship to take the migrants to Libya, the nearest land, but it disregarded the request.  The tiny island state receives thousands of illegal migrants heading to Europe each year.

Hours before the latest incident, 111 mainly African migrants arrived in a rubber dinghy at Delimara, on the south-east coast.  In the latest incident, the European Commission said that since the ship was now closest to Malta, the island must allow the migrants to disembark as soon as possible.

Any dispute over which country should legally take them should be resolved later, it argued. The immediate concern was to save lives.  The master of the tanker M/V Salamis is credited with saving the migrants’ lives but the Maltese authorities are refusing to let the ship dock.

Malta says the migrants are in no danger or distress though the ship’s master has issued an urgent medical request saying one injured woman needs to be taken immediately to hospital.

The Maltese government said a patrolling Italian navy ship had ordered the Salamis to take the migrants to the nearest available port, in this case in Libya.

“The government told the ship’s captain that since he had ignored the instructions given him [by the Italian navy], he had been forbidden to enter Maltese waters,” a statement said on Monday.  On Sunday the Italian navy rescued a group of at least 90 migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa by boat, and brought them to the island of Lampedusa.  Last month, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat told EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy that the burden of immigration to the EU should not fall on its smallest member.

While Malta would do its compassionate duty, he added, it would not leave its doors open wide and “welcome boats from Libya and elsewhere as if nothing happened”.  “Call us harsh, call us heartless, but we are not pushovers,” the Maltese prime minister said.

article via bbc.co.uk

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