The Malta Independent 2 March 2024, Saturday
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New standoff: Malta says migrants were not in distress, refused help

Thursday, 16 August 2018, 19:51 Last update: about 7 years ago

Malta has refuted claims by Italy that it “directed” a migrant vessel in distress towards Italy, saying that the boat in question refused help and that the migrants on board wanted to go to Italy.

The government was reacting to news reports, in a number of Italian news outlets, that Italy wants one of its coast guard vessels, the Diciotti, to disembark some 170 migrants in Malta. It was claimed that the migrants were rescued from a sinking dinghy inside Maltese SAR waters.

Home Affairs Minister Matteo Salvini was quoted as saying that the Maltese authorities, who had coordinated the rescue, were “directing” the Italian vessel towards Italy.

Salvini was quoted as saying that this was unacceptable, that Italy had already done enough and spent enough money. Some news outlets said Salvini was warning that if Malta did not allow the ship to enter its ports, Italy would renege on its agreement to take 20 migrants brought to Malta by the Aquarius on Wednesday.

The Aquarius docked in Senglea with 141 migrants aboard. The ship was allowed to enter the Grand Harbour after five member states – excluding Malta – agreed to share the migrants. Italy later joined in the agreement.

In a statement the Maltese government said: “A boat with migrants was intercepted by the Italian Coast Guard and Italian naval assets contributing to Frontex Operation Themis on high seas, exercising effective control, when the same boat was making its way safely towards Lampedusa exercising its right of freedom of navigation on the high seas.

The boat was steaming ahead without elements of distress. The migrant boat kept refusing assistance from the AFM naval asset which was continuously monitoring the boat throughout their journey within MT SRR. The migrants insisted that they did not require assistance and wanted to continue heading to their intended final destination, namely Italy. Hence the AFM continued to monitor the boat to fulfil a duty for care.

In case the Italian authorities consider the event as a SAR case, as per applicable conventions, the nearest safest port of safety is Lampedusa.

Interestingly, the Rome MRCC showed no interest on the safety of migrants when the boat was in Libya’s SRR and were inconsistent with efforts to provide assistance between one SRR and another, when the situation on board remained the same.

This means that the Italian RCC has no legal claim when asking Malta to provide a safe port for the latest case.”


Aquarius: redistribution process ‘started immediately’

A government spokesperson told The Malta Independent on Thursday that the process to distribute the asylum seekers picked up by the Aquarius started immediately.

Malta is only serving as a logistical base on this issue and that all the migrants aboard vessel are being distributed among France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain and Italy.

The countries would need to evaluate the situation and confirm that the asylum seekers do have a right to asylum.

The migrants were rescued by the aid boat Aquarius in two separate operations in the Mediterranean Sea off Libya on Friday. The Armed Forces of Malta assisted in the disembarkation while the health authorities examined the migrants. A total of 12 immigrants, including two pregnant women and five infants under five years of age, had been escorted to Mater Dei Hospital on the day of their arrival.

The Aquarius left Malta Thursday afternoon, although other NGO ships are still being blocked in port.


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