Malta allows migrants off rescue ships in 8-nation EU deal
Racing an approaching storm, Maltese military vessels took to shore 49 migrants who were kept in limbo on private rescue ships until the island nation reached a deal Wednesday for the asylum-seekers to be distributed among eight other European Union members.
The deal ended an impasse that kept the migrants stuck on the rescue boats while European governments negotiated which countries would take them. A ship operated by German rescue group Sea-Watch picked up 32 people on December 22. Another aid group, Sea-Eye, rescued 17 in waters off Libya on Dec. 29.
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the ad hoc deal illustrated anew that the EU needs a comprehensive policy on migrants who are rescued while trying to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean Sea.
The deal also met Malta's demand for other countries to take many of the 249 migrants Maltese military vessels rescued in late December. The agreement calls for 131 to be relocated to other EU nations, 74 to remain in Malta and to have EU experts review the circumstances of 44 migrants from Bangladesh before their destinations are decided.
Germany agreed to take 60 migrants from Malta, some from the stranded rescue ships and some Maltese boats rescued in December. Italy was another of the eight countries that agreed to let in migrants from the Sea-Watch and Sea-Eye ships.
The other countries in the deal are France, Italy, Portugal, Ireland, Romania, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.