ROME – Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat authorized on Wednesday the arrival of 49 migrants who had been traveling on two rescue vessels which had been stranded at sea for 19 days following several failed attempts to find a safe port, the European Commission said.
Muscat had sent a Maltese military ship to accept the migrants on board the German rescue boats, Sea Watch 3 and Professor Albrecht Penck, and bring them to Malta where they would later be distributed across eight countries – Germany, France, Portugal, Ireland, Romania, Luxembourg, Holland and Italy – following an agreement with the European Union member states, the EC said.
“Our efforts to disembark the migrants on boats in Malta have brought results,” Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos tweeted. “All those on board are being disembarked right now.”
Speaking at a press conference, Muscat said the rescue boats would not be mooring on the Mediterranean island south of Italy and that they would be obliged to leave Maltese territorial waters immediately once the migrants had boarded the military ship.
Muscat added that NGOs needed to follow the rules and not wait for countries to solve their problems for them.
The agreement between Malta and the European states outlines that as well as the 49 rescued migrants, a further 131 people who had arrived on the island in recent hours and 44 Bangladeshi nationals would also be redistributed to the eight countries that had signed the deal brokered by the EU.
“We commend Malta for allowing this disembarkation and EU countries that showed active solidarity in accepting them,” Avramopulos added.
The Sea Watch 3 boat, which belongs to Sea Watch, and Professor Albrecht Penck, owned by Sea Eye, had been stranded in the Mediterranean Sea since Dec. 22 and Dec. 29 respectively.
“The EU releases its 49 hostages. After 19 days at sea, our guests finally have a safe haven,” Sea Watch tweeted.
“It is a testament to state failure, politics must never be made at the expense of people in need. Thanks to everyone who has been with us these days.” the NGO added.