6 EU countries agree to take in stranded migrants - GulfToday

6 EU countries agree to take in stranded migrants


Migrants celebrate aboard the Ocean Viking ship in the Mediterranean Sea on Friday. Agence France-Presse

Six EU countries have agreed to take in 356 migrants stranded at sea for two weeks aboard the Ocean Viking rescue vessel, ending the latest standoff over migration to Europe across the Mediterranean.

The migrants aboard the ship, which is run by French charities, will be taken to Malta before being relocated to France, Germany, Romania, Luxembourg, Portugal and Ireland, the EU migration commissioner and Maltese prime minister said on Twitter.

“Welcome that a solution for the persons aboard Ocean Viking has been found and that all will be relocated,” EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said, praising Malta for overseeing the arrangement.

The plight of the Ocean Viking, run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and another French charity, SOS Méditerranée, has exposed Europe’s failure to come up with a coherent policy to deal with migration from Africa through Libya.

On Tuesday, around a hundred migrants stranded for weeks on board another rescue ship, the Open Arms, disembarked on the Italian island of Lampedusa after an Italian prosecutor ordered the ship’s seizure and evacuation. Spain, France, Germany, Luxembourg and Portugal agreed to take them in.

Providing sanctuary to migrants and refugees is currently left to the goodwill of member states who come forward as the emergencies unfold.

“European governments need to bring to a definitive end prolonged standoffs and petty case-by-case negotiations to come up immediately with a predetermined disembarking mechanism, MSF said.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Twitter the migrants on Ocean Viking would be picked up in international waters and then transferred onshore by Maltese military boats.

France said it would take in 150 of the migrants, after initially committing to sheltering only 40. Portugal said late on Thursday it was ready to take up to 35 migrants.

The ship, which had been stranded in international waters between Malta and the southern Italian island of Linosa, had been denied entry by Malta while requests to Italy had gone unanswered, the charities previously said.

Italy has banned the docking of private rescue ships operating close to its shores.

Matteo Salvini, the far-right interior minister, has called them taxis for people-smugglers, saying Italy should not be “Europe’s refugee camp.”

“I am working at the ministry to defend the borders and stop the Ocean Viking ship — French NGO and Norwegian-flagged — from entering Italian waters,” Salvini said on Facebook on Friday.

The Ocean Viking ship was carrying mostly Africans from Sudan, plucked from the sea in four separate missions.

They include more than 100 minors, around 90 of them unaccompanied, and three children are under the age of five, MSF said.

African migrants on board the ship howled with joy as the news broke.

“Thank you!” they shouted as the adults swept their children up into their arms and danced for joy on the deck of the Norwegian-flagged ship, run by charities MSF and SOS Mediterranee.

Jay Berger, the MSF coordinator on board, had planned to spread the news quietly after food rations were distributed.

But among the closely-packed migrants, no secrets — especially one this big — could be kept for long.

They crowded towards him to hear him announce in English, then in French, the news that their sea odyssey was over.

“Thank you, Mama,” the youngsters said, kissing MSF nurse Mary Jo, who has taken care of them since their rescue.

They hugged their saviours — Tanguy, Clement, Antonin, Basile, Eric and Alessandro — and held the five babies on board up into the air in triumph.

“It made me cry, I cried,” said Spanish sailor Marco, while crewman Jeremie agreed that “you never get used to” the emotional scenes when those saved from the treacherous Mediterranean crossing hear they will land in Europe.

From the ship’s cook to captain — an old West African truck driver — the entire crew joined in the celebrations.

The details matter little to those fleeing violence and poverty, who only want “security, study and work” to support families.

As the celebrations continued on board, fellow rescue charities cheered the Ocean Viking’s news via social media but slammed the failure of European leaders to quickly deal with those fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa.


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