Malta takes in 44 migrants from Alan Kurdi rescue ship

Maltese coastguard picks up asylum seekers from charity boat out at sea

Migrants from the German rescue ship "Alan Kurdi" disembark from an Armed Forces of Malta vessel after arriving at its base in Marsamxett Harbour, Valletta, Malta July 9, 2019. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

Forty-four migrants plucked from their stricken vessel in the Mediterranean arrived in Malta Tuesday after the charity boat Alan Kurdi handed them over to the coastguard at sea.

Malta agreed to take in those rescued by the German charity Sea-Eye and sent a vessel to pick them up.

"The group, which includes four women and three children, was brought to land by the Armed Forces of Malta, which transferred the migrants in international waters," a Maltese government source said. "We're going to process them."

There was no mention of a deal to send them on to other EU countries because they were rescued in Malta's search and rescue area.

The Alan Kurdi last week rescued 65 shipwrecked migrants attempting the journey from North Africa, handing them over to Malta after Italy's hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini closed his country's ports to the vessel.

Sea-Eye said it was alerted to the plight of the latest migrants off the Libyan coast by Tunisian fishermen and a civilian search plane.

The rescued migrants said they had left Zuwara in Libya early on Saturday.

Maltese authorities asked a nearby freighter to co-ordinate the rescue of their wooden boat. The freighter then asked the Alan Kurdi to take the migrants on board.

The children are aged 15 months, three and five. The people come from Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Guinea.

"A 15-month-old baby should never have to be in such a life-threatening situation," Sea-Eye spokeswoman Carlotta Weibl said.

The 65 migrants the Alan Kurdi handed over to Maltese authorities on Sunday have already been sent to other EU countries because they were not rescued in the area of Malta's responsibility.

An Italian Customs vessel on Tuesday took 47 rescued migrants into Sicily's Pozzallo port, Italian media reported.

The migrants had been headed to Lampedusa, an Italian island between Sicily and Libya, but there was no space for them there as hundreds continue to arrive by their own means or are rescued by authorities.

Mr Salvini has pledged to continue closing Italian ports to charity rescue ships, which he accuses of helping people smugglers.

Interior Ministry figures showed that 395 migrants arrived in Italy since the end of June.

This year barely one in 10 migrants and asylum seekers had been taken into Italy by charity vessels.

Mr Salvini on Monday said he wanted to use military vessels to stop migrant boats arriving.

Half of the migrants that landed in Pozzallo are Tunisian, Italian media reported.

Mr Salvini has written to the Tunisian authorities urging a deal on handling migrants, including use of ferries to repatriate them.

Italy and Malta have repeatedly criticised Europe's case-by-case approach to migrant rescues, which means shipwreck victims spend days or weeks at sea while countries try to agree where they should go.

The Alan Kurdi, which was banned from entering Maltese and Italian waters, is the third rescue vessel in a week to make headlines.

About 41 people were finally allowed to step off migrant rescue charity Mediterranea's Italian-flagged Alex, which arrived at the port on Saturday in an overnight operationin which the ship was seized by authorities.

The boat's captain, Tommaso Stella, is being investigated for allegedly aiding illegal immigration.

Mr Salvini last month issued a decree that would impose fines of up to €50,000 (Dh205,810) for the captain, owner and operator of a vessel "entering Italian territorial waters without authorisation".

Authorities on Lampedusa in late June seized a rescue ship belonging to Sea-Watch, which forced its way into port with dozens of rescued migrants on board, and arrested its captain, Carola Rakete.

An Italian judge subsequently ordered Ms Rakete to be freed on bail, saying she had been acting to save lives.

It was a decision that sparked Mr Salvini's anger and may have encouraged the Alex crew.

Ms Rakete still faces charges of helping people smugglers and resisting the authorities after forcing her way past Italian Customs boats.

Libya, which has been racked by chaos since the 2011 uprising that killed dictator Muammar Qaddafi, has long been a major transit route for migrants, especially from sub-Saharan Africa, desperate to reach Europe.