Pope appeals for EU solidarity with migrants off Malta

Sea-Watch 3 rescue vessel near the coast of Malta, January 4 2019.
Sea-Watch 3 rescue vessel near the coast of Malta, January 4 2019. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi

Pope Francis has urged EU leaders to show "concrete solidarity" with 49 migrants stranded on NGO ships off the coast of Malta who have been refused permission to land. Several NGOs have accused European ministers of reaching a new “record of shame” in refusing to open their ports.


"Forty nine migrants rescued in the Mediterranean by two NGO ships have been onboard for several days now, waiting to be able to disembark," Francis told thousands of people gathered in Saint Peter's square in Rome on Sunday.

"I make a heartfelt appeal to European leaders to show concrete solidarity for these people," Francis said, raising his voice. They were only "seeking a safe port where they can disembark", he said.

Most of the stranded migrants are from Nigeria, Libya and Cote d’Ivoire.

For the 17 people on board the German NGO Sea-Eye vessel, it’s their third week at sea. While the 32 on the Sea-Watch vessel, another German NGO, will shortly begin their fourth week. Among them are a one-year-old baby and two children aged six and seven.

Weather conditions are difficult, and sanitary conditions on the two rescue boats are deteriorating by the day.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF Sea) said there was no justification for the degrading way the migrants were being treated

European deadlock

Earlier this week the European Commission called on EU member states to admit them.

The Netherlands and Germany agreed to take some of them in but only if their EU partners do the same, highlighting again the European Union's long-running deadlock over sharing responsibility for migrants.

Both Italy and Malta have refused port access and on Sunday they reiterated that position.

"In Italy, there are no more arrivals. That is the line and it will not change," hardline Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini told the Il Messaggero newspaper.

But there tensions within Italy’s ruling coalition. Vice-prime minister Luigi Di Maio (Five star movement) said he was ready to welcome the 10 women and children aboard the vessels.

So far no EU member state with access to the sea has come forward to allow the vessels to land. In the run-up to European elections in May, the fear of an increase in populism and the far right appears to be having a paralysing effect.

Record of shame

Several NGOs have taken to twitter to denounce the EU deadlock as a “record of shame”.

“It’s been 14 days now that they’ve been abandoned at sea. A new record of shame” wrote a collective of humanitarian and human rights associations on Twitter.

However, several towns, including Naples in Italy, have offered to host them. The mayor of Naples wrote a letter, defying Italy’s hardline interior minister, saying he would personally lead the operation to disembark them if they came near the coast.

EU members have failed to agree on a permanent mechanism to relocate migrants who reach Europe's shores, even though arrivals have dropped sharply since a peak more than three years ago.

According to the UN refugee agency, some 113,482 migrants crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe last year; 2,262 people lost their lives or went missing making the perilous journey.

(with AFP)

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