Malta has allowed the French-German rescue ship dock at Valletta harbour, thus putting an end to a tug-of-war among EU countries and letting 141 migrants including at least 70 children on its board disembark. The vessel, operated by the charities SOS Mediterranée and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), had been banned from a number of European ports.
The ship was allowed to dock after Germany, Luxembourg, Spain, Portugal and France had said they would accept migrants who were rescued off the coast of Libya. The group of countries is also going to accept a group of 114 migrants who were saved from the waters of the Mediterranean and brought to Malta earlier last week. Valletta originally wanted the migrants to be accepted by Libya, Tunisia or the Italian island of Lampedusa that are all closer to the rescue points.
After the vessel docked, members of a right-wing group Movement Patrijotti Maltin (Malta Patriotic Movement) showed a banner “Stop Human Trafficking” while members of another rescue operation raised a banner reading “Everyone Has a Right to Life”. A Maltese government spokesperson commented that the migrants onboard ‘Aquarius’ come mostly from Eritrea and Somalia. They were provided immediate healthcare before being accepted to a reception center.
Aquarius had become the center of the migration row before when it was rejected by Malta and Italy in June and eventually docked in Spain. In the meantime, another ship – the Diciotti, working under the EU’s Frontex Mediterranean rescue operation – has been off Lampedusa after rescuing migrants on 16 August. Rome’s interior minister threatened to return to Libya 177 migrants on its board. Italy had also asked Valetta to accept them but it was refused.