Malta allowed 49 men, women and children to disembark Wednesday after spending 19 days on rescue ships that picked them up in the Mediterranean Sea near Libya.
This followed accords that not only involved the groups’ split relocation to European Union countries, but also the relocation of most of the 249 migrants brought to Malta in December by the country’s naval forces, the Times of Malta reported.
Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said navy vessels took in the migrants, who will be later sent to France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal and Romania. Of the 249 brought to Malta in December, 44 Bangladeshi migrants will be repatriated with European Union help.
Muscat addressed the delays in accepting the migrants, amid pleads for humanitarian compassion from different organizations and Pope Francis, by reiterating Malta’s position that other, closer countries could have instead allowed the migrants to disembark there.
“When the rescue took place they were not next to Malta, but Libya. One argues that Libya is not a safe place, but they were next to two other safe places — Tunisia and Italy. Definitely not in Maltese waters, so I think it is unfair to say that someone was made to wait when no one asked them to come,” he said.
“Every hour that passed without a solution is not an hour I was proud of. The solution was not found by the European Union, but by some European Union members,” Muscat said.
The disemberkment came after reports two days ago that some migrants were rejecting food, with rapidly rising stress and a generally increasingly unstable situation. Four days earlier, one migrant jumped into the water, but was rescued shortly after.
Thousands of migrants for several years have reached southern European countries that include Italy and Malta. Both countries last year decided to close ports to migrants, in a bid to try to control immigration flows. Spain has continued to receive migrants, who normally set out from Morocco.
Italy’s Corriere della Sera added that the first migrants landed in Malta around 4 p.m. local time Wednesday and were immediately taken to hospitals for physical controls.
A total 111,558 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea in 2018 through December 16, the International Organization for Migration said last month.
According to the IOM, 2018 was the fifth in a row that the arrival of irregular migrants and refugees to Europe topped 100,000. More than 2,200 people died in 2018 crossing the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean continues to account for most migrant deaths recorded globally.