Malta has asked Pope Francis to take in a migrant family as it pressures other EU nations to share refugee burdens. Malta is keeping 56 migrants — initially rescued by fishing boats — on a tourist ferry far offshore.
Malta's government in a diplomatic note urged Pope Francis Tuesday to take in a boat migrant family, saying the Mediterranean island nation was facing a "disproportionate" burden compared to other EU member nations.
On Monday, Prime Minister Robert Abela told Maltese media that island ports would remain closed to "all irregular immigrants" until an EU agreement was found for their relocation.
He recounted a conversation on Friday with European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who had asked that migrants be allowed disembarkation.
"We must first find a solution, and the relocation can take place," said Abela, adding the migrants were being kept "comfortable" with "food, water, and medical supplies" on the Captain Morgan ferry outside Maltese territorial waters.
Port closures by Malta and Italy, citing the novel coronavirus pandemic, have drawn criticism from human rights groups.
Malta's government has denied claims made in court that former government officials using fishing boats in recent years forcibly return asylum seekers to Libya.
Papal interventions on Greek islands
Tuesday's appeal by majority Catholic Malta to Pope Francis follows his vocal defense of migrant rights in recent years.
His interventions since 2016 resulted in dozens of migrants from crowded Greek island camps being relocated to the Vatican.
A group transferred last December were looked after by the Community of Sant'Egidio, a Catholic charity.
On Monday, Italy disembarked some 180 migrants in Palermo, Sicily, but Italian officials said they were still waiting for a relocation deal.
ipj/rc (dpa, epd)