A new stand-off over rescued migrants in the
Mediterranean was resolved on Sunday as Malta accepted to take in 65
people picked up by a German charity, stressing they would
"immediately" be flown to other European Union countries.
"Following discussions with the European Commission and the German government, the Maltese government will transfer 65 rescued immigrants on board the ship Alan Kurdi operated by the NGO [Sea-Eye] to an Armed Forces of Malta asset," a statement said.
The migrants, including three people in need of an urgent medical evacuation, will be taken to a Maltese port and "will be immediately relocated to other European Union member states. None of the said immigrants will remain in Malta," the statement added. The Alan Kurdi - named after a 3-year-old Syrian refugee who drowned off the Turkish coast in September 2015 - arrived in international waters off Malta on Sunday, after being denied entry in Italy's Lampedusa island. Late Saturday, Sea-Eye tweeted: "In the evening, the Alan Kurdi changed its course towards Malta. We cannot wait until the state of emergency prevails. Now it has to be proven whether the European governments stand by Italy's attitude. Human lives are not a bargaining chip."
Malta initially barred the Alan Kurdi from entering its waters. It eventually demurred, striking a deal that also foresaw the transfer to other EU countries of "at least half of the 58 migrants" that the Maltese navy separately took ashore on Sunday. EU countries have long been at loggerheads on sharing responsibility for migrants coming in from North Africa. Front-line nations like Malta, Italy and Greece often complained about being left alone to deal with the issue.
The stand-off over the Alan Kurdi was resolved a day after another non-governmental organization (NGO), Italy's Mediterranea, defied Salvini's orders and took in 41 shipwrecked migrants into Lampedusa's port. Alessandra Sciurba, a spokeswoman for Mediterranea, confirmed in a press conference in Lampedusa that Mediterranea's Alex boat had been impounded by police and the charity was fined for trespassing into Italian territorial waters. She did not say the amount, but a recent Italian law, spearheaded by hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, says migrant boats that make unauthorized forays into Italian waters should be sanctioned with a fine of 10,000 to 50,000 euros (11,200 to 56,000 dollars). Noting that it was the second time in a couple of months that Italian authorities have impounded a Mediterranea vessel, Sciurba said: "It's clear that we are facing difficulties [...] but we have no intention to stop."
The migrants on the Alex, some of whom had scabies, were visited after disembarkation and taken to Lampedusa's migrant reception centre, a doctor who was on board, Giulia Berberi, said in the press conference. The Italian government had asked for the Alex to take the migrants to Malta, but Mediterranea refused, saying the 11-hour journey would have been too long and dangerous.
The sail boat had around 60 people on board, despite a legal capacity of 18. Mediterranea said Salvini's ministry nixed proposals to have the migrants taken to Malta by other vessels. According to the head of mission on the Alex, Erasmo Palazzotto, "there were no other possible choices" but to make an unauthorized entry into Lampedusa. Palazzotto is also a left-wing opposition member of parliament.
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