Malta to relocate 65 migrants after rescue ships defy Italy ban

AFP , Sunday 7 Jul 2019

Rescued migrants arrive on an Armed Forces of Malta vessel at its base in Marsamxett Harbour, Valletta, Malta July 7, 2019. REUTERS

Malta's prime minister said Sunday his country would relocate to other EU countries 65 migrants stranded aboard the Alan Kurdi rescue ship, after two other boats defied efforts to stop them landing in neighbouring Italy.

Premier Joseph Muscat tweeted that "following discussions with the EU Commission and the German government", the 65 people would be transferred from the Alan Kurdi to a Maltese military "asset which will then enter a Maltese port".

"All rescued persons on board will be immediately relocated to other EU member states," he added.

The Alan Kurdi, which had been banned from entering Maltese waters after waiting off the island of Lampedusa in recent days, is the third rescue vessel in a week to make headlines.

Far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has attempted to block Italian ports to rescue ships, as tensions rise over the international response to the migration crisis.

Early on Sunday, dozens of shipwrecked migrants disembarked in Italy after their rescue boat docked on Lampedusa.

Some 41 people were finally allowed to step off migrant rescue charity Mediterranea's Italian-flagged Alex, which arrived at the port on Saturday in an overnight operation that saw the ship temporarily seized by authorities.

The boat's captain Tommaso Stella is being investigated for allegedly aiding illegal immigration, according to the Italian news agency Agi.

Salvini last month issued a decree that would impose fines of up to 50,000 euros ($57,000) for the captain, owner and operator of a vessel "entering Italian territorial waters without authorisation".

After the Alex reached port, the populist deputy prime minister said that he would raise the maximum fine to one million euros.

"I do not authorise any landing for those who couldn't care less about Italian laws and help the people smugglers," Salvini tweeted late Saturday.

Mediterranea said it had sailed to "the only possible safe port for landing", citing "intolerable hygiene conditions aboard" in a tweet Saturday.

'Irresponsibility Of European Countries' 

Authorities on Lampedusa in late June seized a rescue ship belonging to German aid group Sea-Watch, which had forced its way into port with dozens of rescued migrants on board, and arrested its captain Carola Rackete.

An Italian judge subsequently ordered her freed, saying she had been acting to save lives, a decision which sparked Salvini's ire but may have encouraged the Alex crew.

Two other investigations, on charges of helping people smugglers and resisting the authorities are still under way after Rackete forced her way past Italian customs vessels.

"The irresponsibility of European countries obliged me to do what I did," Rackete said, in a message to the thousands of protesters who demonstrated in Germany on Saturday to support her.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer wrote a letter to Salvini asking him to rethink his policy, sources close to the German government said.

"We cannot be responsible for boats with people rescued from shipwrecks on board spending weeks on the Mediterranean because they can't find a port," Seehofer wrote.

Libya Fears 

The Alan Kurdi is carrying migrants who were rescued when they encountered difficulties off Libya.

"None of the said immigrants will remain in #Malta as this case was not under the responsibility of the Maltese authorities. 3 persons on board in need of urgent medical attention will be immediately evacuated," Malta's premier added on Twitter.

Libya, which has been wracked by chaos since the 2011 uprising that killed dictator Moamer Kadhafi, has long been a major transit route for migrants, especially from sub-Saharan Africa, desperate to reach Europe.

On Tuesday night, 53 migrants were killed in an air strike on a detention centre in a Tripoli suburb.

Pope Francis on Sunday called for "humanitarian corridors" to help rescue migrants in response to that air strike.

"The international community cannot accept such grave incidents," the pope said during a Sunday address at Saint Peter's Square.

Also on Sunday, Maltese authorities said they had rescued another group of 50 migrants in Malta's search and rescue zone on Sunday, after receiving a distress call saying their vessel was sinking.

They are expected to arrive in Malta on Sunday evening.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online

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