Malta has once again served to provide shelter for a group of migrants who had been on the high seas for two weeks. 356 migrants were brought to Malta late yesterday evening, and will all shortly be relocated to six member states of the European Union.
The Maltese Government’s decision has been supported by twenty non-governmental organisations, which have appealed to the member states of the European Union to do more about this challenge whilst safeguarding their legal, political and moral responsibilities. Even the Nationalist Party noted with satisfaction that the saga of the Ocean Viking had finally been concluded.
Another episode was brought to an end during the night in the saga of the 356 migrants, the majority of them Sudanese, who had been taken on board the Ocean Viking in four different rescue operations. This was the biggest group of migrants brought to Malta this year.
The migrants were disembarked at the maritime base in Hay Wharf, where arrival procedures were started, and were then transferred to temporary accommodation at the open centre until arrangements are made for their relocation to six European countries. At this stage registration and identification are also carried out by the Maltese authorities. All this is under the scrutiny of officials from international agencies, including the UNHCR and the International Migration Organisation.
More than one quarter of the migrants are under age, and in their majority they are not accompanied by either parents or relatives. The group includes three children still under five years of age. After two weeks on the Ocean Viking, on Friday afternoon they were transferred on to an Armed Forces patrol boat outside Maltese territorial waters, and were brought to the Armed Forces maritime base at Hay Wharf late in the evening.
This development came in the wake of discussions with the European Commission and a number of countries, with Malta accepting to be part of the solution and the Government giving authorisation for the migrants to be disembarked here. Government made it clear that none of the migrants would remain in Malta, and all the group will be relocated to six countries: France, Germany, Romania, Luxembourg, Portugal and Ireland. Reuters news agency has reported that France will be taking the largest number of persons in the group: 150.
The Maltese Government stated it had acted in a manner which did not prejudice its legal position, and reiterated its commitment to be part of pragmatic solutions which do not place extra pressure on one member state. The Nationalist Party noted in a statement that the Ocean Viking issue had been concluded, and appealed for the migration challenge not to be tackled through momentary solutions. The PN added that this was a European problem which required a collective solution, further stating that Government should work more towards an agreement about constant legal mechanisms which ensure implementation of the principle of solidarity.
The Ocean Viking, which took the migrants on board, flies a Norwegian flag and is operated by two non-governmental oganisations: Medecins Sans Frontieres and SOS Mediterranee. Sam Turner, who runs the medical side of Medecins Sans Frontieres in Libya, stated that many of these migrants had experienced suffering and cruelty in Libya.
“We have spoken to people who have been trapped on the frontlines of the fighting in Libya, we have spoken to people who have lived through the air strike on the Tajoura detention centre, where approximately 60 people were killed in early July and further 70 were injured. We have also spoken to people and treated injuries of those who have experienced horrors during their time in Libya. At the hands of traffickers and criminals they have been exploited, they have been subjected to what we can only describe as torture: beatings, sexual violence and all sorts of horrific things that are really unimaginable.”
Twenty non-governmental organisations praised the decision by the Maltese Government to bring these migrants to Malta, and criticised the European countries who they say are again dragging their feet, with the result that human suffering has been lengthened. The NGOs, which include the Aditus Foundation, Drachma, the Jesuit Refugee Service and University departments, appealed to European member states to do more in the face of this challenge.
356 migrants will be brought to Malta for relocation to other countries