The Malta Independent 26 May 2019, Sunday

Updated (3): EC working on solution to relocate stranded migrants - Michael Farrugia

Rebekah Cilia Saturday, 5 January 2019, 10:54 Last update: about 6 months ago

Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia has told this newsroom that the European Commission is working on an ad hoc solution to find countries, with the participation of Malta, to relocate around 300 migrants on both the Sea-Watch 3 and Prof. Albrecht Penck and the ones recently rescued by the AFM.

He said that Malta adheres to its international obligations and with the relevant conventions it is signatory to. "Besides we have gone the extra mile by coordinating ad hoc disembarkation and relocations in spite of it not being our responsibility," Farrugia said.

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Farrugia reiterated that the two NGO boats intercepted migrants close to Libya and that Malta was neither the appropriate nor the competent SAR authority. They were refused entry by the Italian authorities.

"In the meantime, the AFM rescued around 250 migrants who found themselves in distress in our SAR. These last rescues are putting a strain on our services which are now full," he said. The Maltese government has given shelter from the bad weather, letting supplies reach the boats and crew changes.

He confirmed that the Italian authorities have not yet given a clear stand due to the contradictory statements issued by members of government.

Trouble is brewing in the Italian government as the top two exponents are in conflict on what should be done with migrants who have been stranded at sea off Malta for two weeks. 

While Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio has said that women and children should be allowed to disembark in Malta and taken to Italy, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini is adamant that things should not change.

Di Maio said that although Italy should not go back on their migration policy, which has led to Italy receiving fewer migrants than in previous years when it comes to women and children on board the Sea Watch 3 Italy is ready to give a lesson to all of Europe and to welcome them.

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, however, stood by his firm stance saying in a tweet 'I will not budge a millimetre', ending with the hashtag stop invasion.He later said, according to Italian media, that Malta should take in the migrants, given that they are in maltese waters.

In another development, Germany said it is ready to accept migrants rescued by German aid organisations in the Mediterranean but in the context of a 'broad European distribution solution'. This was reported by DerStandard, a German news portal as being said by a spokesperson for the German Interior Ministry in Berlin today.

'Balanced distribution' is required the German government said in order for a quick solution 'within' the framework of common European responsibility and solidarity.

A spokeswoman for the German company Sea Watch replied to Di Maio's offer, who agreed to welcome women and children on board Sea Watch 3 saying "It is not an option we can take seriously," an Italian news portal has reported.

"The deceleration by Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio was promptly denied by Matteo Salvini," said spokeswomen Giorgia Linardi in an interview. "Italy remains in a position that is, unintentionally, not clear."

"The negotiation on the redistribution should take place after the landing," added the spokesperson of Sea Watch, "not before guaranteeing a port. It's scandalous. It is a violation of international law that regulates rescue operations at sea."

"We see a glimpse in the announcement by the European Commission that has declared the start of a dialogue with the member countries for redistribution. We know that Germany, France and the Netherlands have already given availability: we hope that a solution will be reached soon," she concluded.

The migrants have been at sea for 14 days as European countries are refusing permission for the vessel to dock. Appeals have been made for governments to show sensitivity and allow the migrants a safe harbour.

The Sea-Watch 3 was on Wednesday given permission to move closer to Malta so that the vessel could take shelter from bad weather that is closing in on the islands.

The vessel, operated by the German NGO Sea-Watch, rescued the migrants following a distress call on 22 December and has been stranded at sea ever since.

There are four women, three unaccompanied minors, two young children and a baby amongst the 32 rescued migrants onboard the Sea-Watch 3, along with 22 crew members.

The Netherlands announced on Wednesday it was prepared to welcome some of the 32 migrants waiting to disembark from a Dutch-flagged vessel off Malta if other countries did the same.

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