Migrants stranded at sea for 19 days finally brought to port

After spending 19 days stranded at sea, 49 migrants picked up by two German rescue ships were finally allowed to disembark in Malta on 9 January 2019. The migrants, who originate from nine African countries and included four women and six children, were initially denied entry to any European port. They will now be divided and sent to nine different European countries.

All 49 migrants were migrating irregularly from Libya across the Mediterranean Sea with the aim of reaching Europe. They were eventually picked up by German rescue ships, Sea Watch 3 and Sea Eye. Despite stormy seas that caused many migrants to be seasick, the rescue ships said all requests for safe harbour were initially ignored or refused by every national government bordering the Mediterranean Sea. According to The New York Times, the Italians had asked Sea Watch 3 to await instructions from the Libyan coastguard., but the Libyans also refused help.

After nearly three weeks, Malta finally agreed to admit the migrants on 9 January 2019. Nine countries agreed to take in some of the migrants. Maltese prime minister, Joseph Muscat, emphasised that the decision was an exception. “I reiterate, as I did before, that this case shall not act as a precedent,” he said.

Italian deputy prime minister, Luigi Di Maio, had said Italy would shelter some of the migrants if Malta allowed the ship to dock. However, far-right politician and interior minister, Matteo Salvini, remained firm in his position and said: “whether it’s eight or 88 migrants, I will not authorise any of them to enter Italy.” The government has hardened its stance on immigration since the far-right won its most recent election, closing its ports to rescue ships on several occasions.

Although the number of migrants travelling irregularly across the Mediterranean to Europe has dropped drastically in recent years, the proportion of those who lose their lives on the journey remains high. Many migrants attempting the journey are also being returned to Libya, deemed unsafe by the United Nations due to civil conflict. The Libyan coastguard says it has intercepted or rescued 15,000 migrants at sea this year.

TMP – 16/01/2019

Photo caption: Rescued migrants aboard the Sea Watch 3

Photo credit: Sea Watch/ Twitter