VALLETTA: Forty migrants aboard a German NGO rescue ship arrived in Malta on Sunday after Italy refused to let them land and a distribution agreement was made between several EU countries.
The Alan Kurdi ship, run by charity Sea-Eye, had rescued the migrants off the Libyan coast on Wednesday but Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini denied the boat the right to use Italian ports. The boat instead travelled to Malta.
Under the distribution deal, none of the migrants will remain in the country.
“They all nearly died. Now they are celebrating life. May they find open arms and hearts in their new home,” Sea-Eye wrote in a tweet late on Saturday. It described the mission as “successful” and said the migrants had been entrusted to the Maltese army.
While emphasising that none of the migrants would remain in Malta, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat described his country’s actions as “a sign of goodwill”. He said Malta felt it was a “humanitarian issue” after Germany requested it allow the rescue boat to dock.
The German government and the European Commission made arrangements for the migrants to be shared among several EU countries, the Maltese government said.
The Alan Kurdi — named after a Syrian toddler who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea — stayed in international waters as the migrants disembarked.
The government gave no indication which countries had agreed to take them in.
But Portugal said on Saturday that it was prepared to accept five of those on board, and that France, Germany and Luxembourg had offered to take others.
On Thursday, Salvini said that the German government had told the European Commission that unless the 40 migrants onboard the Alan Kurdi were allowed to disembark in Italy it would not take in a group of 30 migrants it had already promised to accept.
“This is real blackmail,” said Salvini. “It confirms that other European countries consider Italy as their refugee camp, but things have changed and we no longer accept orders and invasions.” During its last rotation off Libya in early July, the Alan Kurdi rescued 109 migrants and disembarked them in Malta.
Meanwhile another humanitarian ship, Open Arms, was looking for a port to disembark 121 migrants.
The Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms had rescued 55 migrants off Libya on Thursday, and then took on a second group of 69 the next day.
Two pregnant women and the sister of one of them were allowed to disembark in Italy for medical reasons, while the others remain on board the ship, which is barred from entering Italian territorial waters.