EU states to take in 141 migrants on board Aquarius

Malta agrees to allow the rescue vessel to dock following deal between nations

Aquarius crew members hand over life-jackets to migrants on a wooden boat, off the Libyan coast. Photograph: SOS Méditerranée/Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

Aquarius crew members hand over life-jackets to migrants on a wooden boat, off the Libyan coast. Photograph: SOS Méditerranée/Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

 

Five EU countries agreed on Tuesday to take in 141 migrants currently on board the Mediterranean rescue ship Aquarius, prompting Malta to say it would allow the ship to dock.

The boat, run by the Franco-German charity SOS Méditerranée and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), has been at the centre of a continent-wide tug-of-war over how to cope with the migrants.

The decision ended a four-day standoff in which Spain, Tunisia and Malta refused the ship entry.

Those on board the Aquarius had been rescued from boats off Libya, and Malta had initially argued that they should be taken to Libya, Tunisia or the Italian island of Lampedusa, all closer to the rescue points.

“Following discussions between France and Malta, a number of European Union member states, with the support of the European Commission, agreed on a responsibility-sharing exercise regarding the rescued migrants,” the Maltese government said.

All 141 migrants would be distributed among France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain, it said, noting that a further 114 migrants rescued at sea had been brought to Malta on Monday. Sixty of these will also be distributed among other EU member states.

Spain will take 60 of the migrants, Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez tweeted. Portugal said it would take 30 from the Aquarius and other boats that had arrived in Malta.

Spain took in 629 mainly sub-Saharan Africans from the same rescue boat in June, and Sánchez said this had helped pave the way to the latest deal, which Malta called “a concrete example of European leadership and solidarity”.

The latest row over where in Europe to land migrants fleeing war and poverty shows how little political progress has been made since EU leaders brokered a convoluted deal on migration in June that appeared designed to appease divergent views rather than provide concrete solutions to the crisis.

Frédéric Penard, director of operations at SOS Méditerranée, told a news conference: “Maybe European states have finally understood that this concerns our common border at the south of Europe, that this is a problem for the 28 member states, and that we can’t avoid responsibility and should work together.” – Reuters