The humanitarian aid ship Aquarius arrived in Malta, on Wednesday where it was finally allowed to dock after wandering for several days in the Mediterranean with 141 exhausted migrants on board.
The ship, chartered by the NGOs SOS Mediterranean and Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), was brought to dock in Valletta after an agreement to distribute the migrants it had rescued Friday in the waters between five European countries.
The Maltese army has been mobilised to facilitate the landing of migrants, mostly from Somalia and Eritrea, who will have to undergo a medical check upon arrival, according to local authorities. Half are minors and more than one third are women.
Two months after provoking an intense diplomatic crisis, the ship again wandered for several days in search of a port of reception. Rejected by Italy but also initially by Malta, the Aquarius was finally authorised to dock in Valletta following an agreement with five other EU countries. France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain have agreed to accept the 141 migrants on board and the 114 others that arrived on the island on Monday.
Spain, which had hosted the Aquarius in June at the time of its previous wandering, said Tuesday it would take on its soil 60 of the 141 migrants. France, whose president Emmanuel Macron was strongly criticised in June for closing the doors to Aquarius, also assured that it would receive 60 migrants. Germany, for its part, has pledged to receive “up to 50” refugees and Portugal has said it is “available” to accommodate 30 people. Luxembourg will receive 5.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi also welcomed “the end of the impasse over the Aquarius”, but he said that “this situation should never have happened. “It is wrong, dangerous and immoral to keep rescue ships wandering the Mediterranean while governments compete on who can take the least responsibility,” added Grandi.
EU leaders met on 24 June but failed to reach a compromise with hard-line immigration supporters, such as Italy and the Visegrad Group comprised of Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.