The Malta Independent 21 September 2019, Saturday

Updated (2): Ocean Viking migrants to land in Malta, all will be sent to six states

Friday, 23 August 2019, 12:00 Last update: about 28 days ago

The 356 migrants who have been stranded on an NGO vessel for 13 days will be landing in Malta and re-distributed to six other European Union states, the Maltese government said.

Following discussions with the European Commission and a number of member states, namely France and Germany, Malta has agreed to be part of the solution in the Ocean Viking stalemate, without prejudice to its legal position, the statement said.

The said vessel has 356 persons on board, all intercepted and rescued in various operations, none of which took place within the Maltese area of competence or under the direction of the Maltese authorities.

Malta will transfer the said persons on Armed Forces of Malta vessels outside territorial waters, and will take them onshore.  All the said migrants will be relocated to other member states: France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal and Romania.  None of the said migrants will remain in Malta.

In the coming days, more persons which had been disembarked in Malta under previous ad hoc arrangements will be transferred to the member states in fulfilment of their pledges.

Malta said it is committed to being a proactive member of the European Union, being part of pragmatic solutions that do not put undue pressure on one single member state.

Aid organizations operating the Ocean Viking rescue ship are calling on Europe to devise standard solutions to taking in migrants saved in the Mediterranean.

Max Avis, search and rescue manager for SOS Mediterranee, which co-operates the Ocean Viking along with Doctors without Borders, says the current ad hoc approach to taking in migrants was adding to their suffering.

Avis spoke to reporters in Berlin via satellite link from Marseille. He made his comments just before Malta announced it would disembark 356 migrants rescued by the Ocean Viking ashore after six countries agreed to take them.

Avis also said the delay in taking in the rescued migrants has prevented the Ocean Viking from potentially rescuing others, which has added to tensions aboard the ship.

France says it will take 150 of the 356 migrants disembarking from a humanitarian ship in the Mediterranean Sea after six European countries agreed to accept all of them.

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner tweeted that the 150 will be welcomed in France "in the coming days."

He added: "Together, we managed to build a European solution."

The humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders is welcoming Malta's decision to take ashore migrants rescued by its Ocean Viking boat. But the group is also questioning why it took so long and calling for permanent European solutions.

Jay Berger, operations manager for Doctors Without Borders on board the Ocean Viking, said: "We are relieved that the long ordeal for the 356 people on board with us if finally over but was it necessary to keep them waiting for two weeks of torment?"

In a statement, he added: "This is about people who have fled desperate conditions in their homelands and have survived the horrific violence in Libya."

He said once the rescued migrants have left the ship, the Ocean Viking will continue with its mission after restocking supplies and refueling.

The European Union also welcomed Malta's decision to allow a boatload of people rescued from the Mediterranean Sea to disembark on its shores and is urging the six countries that offered to take the migrants to quickly live up to their pledges.

EU Migration Commissioner Dmitris Avramopoulos said in a statement Friday that "these commitments must now be honored and materialized swiftly."

The Ocean Viking carrying 356 people, mostly Africans, rescued in the Mediterranean off Libya was closing in on two weeks at sea without being assigned a safe port to offload the traumatized passengers.


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