African migrants to head for Italy after Maltese rejection | News | DW | 07.08.2013
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African migrants to head for Italy after Maltese rejection

After Malta denied entry to a group of migrants rescued by a tanker from the Mediterranean, Italy has stepped in and will allow the boat carrying the migrants to land. Malta's refusal defied requests by the EU.

Early on Wednesday, the Italian government announced that a tanker ship carrying a group of African migrants would be allowed to dock in Italy. The migrants would be allowed entry into Italy for three days.

The 102 migrants – mostly from northern Africa – were picked up by the tanker on Sunday night from a small boat. The oil tanker, the Liberian-flagged MV Salamis, reportedly ignored orders to sail to Libya, which Malta has said was the closest port of safety at the time of the rescue.

The tanker's captain ignored these orders continued toward Malta, the ship's original destination, where it was stopped before entering Maltese territorial waters. The government in Valetta (the Maltest capital, pictured above) then forced the ship to remain at anchor, insisting that the refugees were no longer at risk.

"We have a captain who ignores his obligations... He did not take into account the orders of a sovereign state," Maltese Interior Minister Manuel Mallia told a press conference.

EU urges Malta to allow entry

But EU Home Affairs Minister Cecilia Malmstrom urged Malta to allow the migrants to disembark, adding that those on board included four pregnant women, one injured woman, and a five-month-old baby.

Maltese doctors visiting the ship determined there were no urgent medical needs for any of the passengers on board.

"The master of the ship M/V Salamis has fulfilled his humanitarian duties to save the lives of 102 people on the high sea," Malmstrom said in a statement on Tuesday. "It is first and foremost important to save the lives of the rescued persons. Any dispute about the responsible search and rescue authority, including the involvement of the Italian and Libyan authorities … should be clarified at a later stage."

Malmstrom added that sending the ship to Libya would violate international law.

Dangerous journeys

Hundreds of thousands of migrants from Africa have braved the seas in dangerously ill-equipped vessels operated by traffickers to get to Italy and other parts of the EU in recent years, many paying with their lives.

Malta has in recent months asked the EU to assist it in dealing with the influx to the small island nation. In July, Malta recorded 800 arrivals (pictured above), with some 1,200 landing so far this year.

In early July, Pope Francis cast a wreath at a fishing harbor on the Italian island of Lampedusa and called for an end to what he called global indifference to the plight of refugees. He also paid tribute to the hundreds who drown every year while trying to reach Europe, saying consciences must be "reawakened."

mz/ipj (Reuters, dpa, AFP)