“Excruciating wait” on rescue ship ends as six EU countries accept stranded migrants

After spending two weeks stranded on a rescue ship in the Mediterranean, 356 migrants, including around 90 unaccompanied minors, will now be allowed to disembark in Malta. From there, they will be divided up and sent to one of the six EU countries which offered to take them in.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted on 23 August that Malta “will transfer these persons to Maltese Armed Forces’ vessels outside territorial waters, and take them onshore.”

In the same tweet, he clarified what would happen after they disembarked: “All migrants will be relocated to other member states: France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal and Romania. None will remain in Malta.”

The decision to allow the ship, Ocean Viking, to bring the migrants to the Maltese port was not immediate. In fact, the crew’s initial requests to disembark were rejected by Malta and ignored by Italy.

The change of heart came after the two French charities who carry out the search and rescue missions on the boat, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) and SOS Mediterranee, warned of worsening conditions on the boat as time went on. They also claimed that supplies were running out.

Reflecting on the two-week ordeal in a statement, Jay Berger, MSF project coordinator onboard the Ocean Viking, asked: “Was it necessary to impose two weeks of excruciating wait for rescued people to be disembarked? These are people who have fled from desperate circumstances in their home countries and suffered horrific abuses in Libya.”

Berger further called on European governments to set up a “a mechanism to allow swift disembarkation” of people rescued at sea.

Another rescue ship operated by Spanish NGO, Open Arms, was recently left stranded for 20 days with many rescued migrants onboard. Tensions rose on the ship as the weeks passed and several passengers had to be evacuated due to health conditions and extreme stress.

The remaining 83 migrants left onboard were finally allowed to disembark on the Italian island of Lampedusa on 20 August. They will also be relocated to several different EU countries.

TMP – 30/08/2019

Photo credit: MSF/ Hannah Wallace

Photo caption: Rescued people on the deck of the Ocean Viking