Malta to relocate 65 migrants from rescue ship after Italy standoff

Italy’s Matteo Salvini has taken a tough approach against migrant boats

epa07702381 Migrants disembark the P21 Armed Forces of Malta vessel at the Armed Forces of Malta maritime base at Hay Wharf, in Floriana, Malta, 07 July, 2019. According to reports, 65 migrants rescued on international waters off Libyan coast, were transferred from a rescue ship Alan Kurdi operated by German NGO Sea-Eye, which was denied entry to the port of Lampedusa a day earlier, and brought to Malta. The migrants will be relocated to other EU countries.  EPA/DOMENIC AQUILINA

Migrants aboard a rescue ship to which Italy refused entry will be allowed into Malta and its passengers relocated to other European countries.

The German-flagged Alan Kurdi, named after the Syrian toddler who drowned off the Turkish coast in 2015, had been engaged in a standoff with Italy’s hard-line government, which has stopped NGO-run rescue ships from entering its ports.

About 65 migrants were on board the ship, which is operated by the German charity Sea-Eye.

Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that “following discussions with the EU Commission and the German government”, the 65 people would be transferred from the Alan Kurdi to a Maltese military “asset which will then enter a Maltese port”.

“All rescued persons on board will be immediately relocated to other EU member states,” he said.

None will remain in Malta.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said his country would take in up to 40 migrants – 15 to 20 from the Alan Kurdi and the rest from a group rescued on Sunday.

Italy and Germany have been engaged in a war of words over their approach to handling migrants rescued in the Mediterranean.

Rome, and in particular its right-wing interior minister Matteo Salvini, has adopted an anti-immigration approach.

It reportedly led Mr Seehofer to write to Mr Salvini, urging him to reconsider his strategy.

“Dear German government, I’m not reopening the ports ... if anything we’re going to put ... (the migrants) in a car and take them to the German embassy,” the Italian interior minister responded on Facebook.

The news came as Germany’s development minister, Gerd Mueller, called on the European Union and United Nations to launch a mission to save migrants stranded in camps on “Libyan soil”.

"The new EU Commission must act immediately. We cannot wait one day longer," he told Neue Osnabruker Zeitung.

Migrants in Libya routinely face torture, hunger and violence. Dozens were killed last week when a detention centre near the capital Tripoli was bombed.

“But do we want to allow the Mediterranean to become the sea of death for good while we look away? The new EU Commission must start a new initiative here too to support the Mediterranean states, and can no longer wait for the agreement of all EU members,” Mr Mueller said.