Malta says deal reached with Italy to take migrants from rescue boat | News | DW | 06.07.2019
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Malta says deal reached with Italy to take migrants from rescue boat

Malta said it will accept migrants from a rescue vessel that had been headed toward Italy. A second boat with rescued migrants is also sailing for Lampedusa, where Italian officials have said it won't be allowed to dock.

Malta and Italy reportedly reached a deal on Friday to begin to tackle the standoff between charity rescue ships in the Mediterranean Sea and Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.

The two countries are said to have agreed to each take refugees from a sailboat belonging to Italian NGO Mediterranea that rescued 54 people at sea.

Under the arrangement, Malta would send a coast guard vessel to pick up migrants on the Mediterranea and bring them to the country's capital, Valetta.

In return, Italy would take another 54 migrants from Malta as "part of an initiative that promotes a European spirit of cooperation and goodwill between Malta and Italy," the Maltese government said.

Pregnant women and children were among the people on the sailboat, which was barred by Salvini from disembarking in his country's ports. Italian authorities evacuated only 13 "vulnerable" migrants from the vessel and took them to Lampedusa.

Mediterranea said the sailboat could not make the 15-hour journey to Malta that Salvini requested.

Mediterranea said the sailboat could not make the 15-hour journey to Malta that Salvini requested.

No rescues yet

By Friday night, Mediterranea reported that neither Malta nor Italy had sent vessels to pick up the remaining 41 migrants from its sailboat, Alex.

Mediterranea's Alessandra Sciurba said that while Italy had taken families and pregnant women from the vessel, "all non-accompanied minors [remained] on board, including an 11-year-old."

Read more: Sea-Watch rescuers slam 'shameful' German, EU refugee policy

The NGO posted photos showing the migrants cramped on the narrow deck of the 18-meter (59-foot) sailboat, seeking shelter from the sun under survival blankets.

"In these conditions, it is impossible to face 15 hours of sailing. We are waiting for Italian or Maltese naval arrangements to take these people on board," Sciurba said on Twitter, in response to Salvini's request that the Alex head to Malta on its own.

New German boat

German aid organization Sea-Eye said on Friday that its ship with 65 rescued migrants on board was headed to Lampedusa. The ship named Alan Kurdi would be the latest to defy the Italian government's disembarking ban.

"We are not intimidated by Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, but instead head towards the nearest port of safety," the organization said on Twitter.

Sea-Eye said the migrants had been found on a rubber dinghy in international waters off the Libyan coast and that it had notified the relevant authorities in the North African country, as well as Malta, Italy and Germany.

Italy has said it will not allow the Alan Kurdi to disembark in its ports

Italy has said it will not allow the Alan Kurdi to disembark in its ports

The organization said the Alan Kurdi and its crew had been granted permission to dock in Libya. But the Sea-Eye declined the offer, saying that international law forced them to deliver the people to "a place of safety."

"It is sufficiently documented that migrants in Libya are exposed to human trafficking, torture, forced labor, sexual exploitation and arbitrary detention and refugee camps are exposed to missile attacks," the NGO said.

Read more: What drives Sea-Watch captain Carola Rackete to rescue migrants?

Salvini ruled out the possibility that the migrants on board the Alan Kurdi would arrive in Italy.

"The German NGO can choose between Tunisia and Germany," he said.

Relations between Italy's government and charity rescue ships grew increasingly tense last week, when Sea-Watch 3 captain Carola Rackete was arrested after forcefully docking her ship in Italy. She was later released from house arrest by a court decision.

The Italian judge ruled in favor of Rackete, saying she was just doing her duty of saving lives and concluded that neither Libya nor Tunisia were safe countries for migrants.

Watch video 26:06

Trapped Refugees: Rescue Forbidden?

jcg/jlw (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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