The Maltese government has offered to take 39 migrants rescued in Malta’s search and rescue zone by NGO vessel Open Arms last night, but the NGO is insisting that Malta should also take another 121 migrants who had been rescued earlier, a Malta government statement said.
“Overnight, the NGO vessel Open Arms rescued 39 migrants who were in distress within the search and rescue region of Malta under the coordination of RCC Malta,” the government said.
“An AFM operation was already underway to carry out the said rescue. Malta has offered to transfer these 39 migrants aboard an AFM vessel and disembark them in Malta since these were rescued in an area of Malta’s responsibility and coordinated by RCC Malta.
“Nevertheless, Open Arms is refusing to do so and is insisting that Malta also takes another 121 migrants who were intercepted in an area where Malta is neither responsible nor the competent coordinating authority. Malta can only shoulder its own responsibility since other solutions are not forthcoming,” the government said.
The Spanish humanitarian ship has been stuck in the Mediterranean Sea for more than a week because no European government will offer safe harbor to the 121 migrants on board, and the vessel faces a fine of up to 1 million euros if it enters Italian waters.
The Open Arms was idle for an eighth day Friday in waters off Italy’s southernmost island. The ship’s dilemma is becoming increasingly common as European governments shut their doors to migrants, led by Italy’s firebrand Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is popular for his hardline stance against migrant arrivals and who this week plunged Italy into a political crisis in an apparent play for power.