The Malta Independent 21 July 2018, Saturday

Watch: MV Lifeline arrives, migrants disembark after Malta-brokered 8-nation agreement

Wednesday, 27 June 2018, 18:18 Last update: about 23 days ago

The MV Lifeline has docked in Senglea, where the 234 migrants disembarked after spending the last six days stuck 25 miles off Malta as EU countries battled for a solution to the impasse.

The migrants, looking visibly tired and drained from their ordeal, were given first assistance by medical staff at Dock 8, before being transported to the Marsa Migration Centre.

The breakthrough arrived this morning when Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced that eight nations had reached an agreement to share the migrants once they are vetted for the eligibility as asylum seekers. The agreement was brokered by the PM.

The migrants have been at sea for six days, as no country would accept them until PM Muscat led a diplomatic effort which resulted in an agreement involving Luxembourg, Italy, France, Ireland, Portugal, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Following an assessment on site by the health authorities, three babies accompanied by their parents together with another three adults were taken to Mater Dei Hospital for further  medical check-ups, the government said in a statement.

The rest of the immigrants will be preliminary assessed at the Initial Reception Centre .

The Captain of MV Lifeline is being interviewed at Police Head Quarters. Immediately after the interview he will be escorted back to the ship, the government said.

The rest of the crew has disembarked the ship

UNHCR officials observed the  process of the whole operation, the statement concluded.

Upon arrival, the ship was impounded and the captain was informed by Maltese authorities that he was being investigated for breach of international maritime regulations. The captain is being assisted by two laywers, Cedric Mifsud and Neil Falzon.

The Co-Founder of Mission Lifeline, the NGO that owns the vessel, Axel Steier, said as the migrants were disembarking that many of the women were raped and many of the men tortured when in Libya. He said that people on board were all malnourished. He said there were 17 women and 5 children.

One of the children was two and a half years-old and was travelling alone. He stressed that sending the asylum seekers back to Libya or letting them die at sea was not the answer. "We always respect international law," he said, while adding that they have evidence they are able to present regarding their mission.

"We also have documents to prove that the Dutch government is lying," he said. Earlier today, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that the Dutch authorities have formally refuted that the vessel is registered under their flag.

Steier said that responsibility of the ship was passed from Rome to Libya, and the Libyan authorities told them to go north, which they did.  He added that most of the migrants are from Sub-Saharan Africa - South Sudan, Sudan and other countries.  He refused to say whether there were any migrants from Somalia, instead saying that he didn't have the passenger lists.

The cost of running the ship, he said, amounts to €25,000, which comes from voluntary donations from people who show solidarity with refugees. 

More than 70 people from different entities (police, AFM officers, medical taff etc.) took part in today's operation. Police Commissioner Lawrence Cutajar had personally gone on site, and the first ambulance left at around 8pm. three babies and one person were taken to Mater Dei Hospital, while three other migrants were taken to health centres.

Mission Lifeline, in a tweet after the vessel docked in Malta, posted a tweet asking for donations for their next rescue mission. 

Upon entering Grand Harbour, the commander of the ship operated by the German aid group Mission Lifeline sounded the boat's horn with two long blasts to salute the migrants after their shared journey of nearly a week while awaiting permission to make landfall.

Many of the rescued passengers stood on decks wearing orange life vests and some waved.

A yellow flag was raised on the ship, signaling that authorities had permission to board. The Maltese flag also was raised as a courtesy and an acknowledgement of Malta's decision to allow the ship to dock in the port of Valetta.

The passengers aboard the vessel were affected by the bad weather in the Mediterranean over the past days. 

Dutch and Belgian Ministers confirmed that they would take 20 and 15 of the refugees respectively

The migrants had left the Libyan Coast days ago in a dinghy, and were then picked up by this vessel. The vessel was escorted by an AFM patrol boat when entering the harbour. Once docked, the Captain of the NGO vessel raised the yellow flag, allowing the authorities to go on-board. A number of activists from Patrijotti Maltin are also present with a large banner which reads: 'Stop Human Trafficking'. 

 

Asylum seekers disembark from The Malta Independent on Vimeo.

The Captain of the Vessel, in a tweet, said that he has written an open letter to the German Interior Minister, Seehofer "who wants to set us up and accuse me of rescuing people in distress." The German Minister has, since then, said that he refuses to take any of the migrants who disembarked from the MV Lifeline, highlighting the need to avoid creating a precedent.

 

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat allowed the ship to enter Malta's harbour after an agreement was reached between eight nations who will take in the migrants on board.

Addressing a press conference in Castille earlier today, Muscat said that upon arrival, the migrants will be vetted and those who have reasons to be granted asylum will be given such, while others will be returned to their country of origin. Muscat said that this is an ad hoc agreement valid only for this particular case.

The countries participating in this exercise are France, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium and Malta. Muscat did not say how many migrants each of the eight member states had accepted to take in.

Aside from this, the Prime Minister had also announced that the MV Lifeline will be detained pending the necessary investigations according to national and international rules. The situation has been caused, the PM had said, by a decision of the captain of the said vessel who went against international rules and ignored directions being given by the Italian authorities who were coordinating the rescue.

Lawyers Neil Falzon (from the Aditus Foundation) and Cedric Mifsud are on the spot to aid the Captain and the crew once the vessel arrives.

 

The Co-Founder of Mission Lifeline, the NGO that owns the vessel, Axel Steier, is currently present on site as well.

Addressing the media as they awaited the arrival of the vessel, Steiner said: We are very proud that our crew rescued 234 people, one of whom was evacuated two days ago. Among the 234 there are five children. This situation is special because the crew was out there for a long time, which is not normal. We want to say thank you that Malta opened its port. I hope we find a good solution for the people who are coming in today and that they find a new future in different countries.

Asylum seekers disembark from MV Lifeline from The Malta Independent on Vimeo.

Photos and videos by Alenka Falzon and Domenic Aquilina.

MV Lifeline to dock shortly from The Malta Independent on Vimeo.

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