Malta allows 49 migrants stranded off coast since December to disembark

Malta allows 49 migrants stranded off coast since December to disembark

The agreement, which was announced on Wednesday by Muscat, will see the migrants shared between Malta, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Germany, France, Romania, Ireland and the Netherlands and will also see 44 Bangladeshi nationals rescued by Malta repatriated.

Salvini's social media outburst came shortly after Italy agreed to take in some of the 49 migrants which docked in Malta this afternoon after 19 days out at sea on two NGO-run vessels.

Interior Ministry spokesman Steve Alter stressed in Berlin Wednesday that the move for European Union countries to share out numerous 249 migrants already rescued by Maltese military ships - plus 49 who have been stranded aboard private rescue vessels - is "an ad hoc decision. for the current situation".

European Union rules oblige countries where migrants first land to process any asylum claims, placing a heavy burden on Mediterranean states like Italy, Greece, Spain and Malta.

Early in the stalemate, Mr Muscat had also struck a defiant note, saying his tiny island nation would not let the 49 people set foot on Malta unless the deal included an agreement for fellow European Union countries to take numerous 249 migrants who Maltese military ships had rescued in its search-and-rescue area in late December.

Those pulled to safety by the two rescue ships had been unable to disembark because of a diplomatic deadlock among European Union member states, despite an appeal by Pope Francis on Sunday.

"The past weeks have not been Europe's finest hour".

EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said Wednesday that "the past weeks have not been Europe's finest hour". "The Italian and Maltese authorities have brazenly undermined the search and rescue system and used people as pawns to negotiate migration policies".

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Muscat, who has previously complained that his country has to bear an unfair share of migrant numbers, insisted Malta had "never closed its ports and it is still a safe port".

The Sea-Watch 3, with 32 rescued people on board, had been waiting off the coast of Malta for 19 days.

"This represents a confession of state failure, policy must not be made at the expense of people in distress", the NGO said. Salvini, who is also interior minister, leads the right-wing, anti-migrant League, one of two coalition parties in Italy's populist government.

"I am and I will remain absolutely against new [migrant] arrivals in Italy", he said on Twitter.

However, Salvini immediately threw a spanner in the works, warning that he will not authorise the entry of any of these migrants into Italy.

"Giving in to pressure and threats by Europe and the NGOs is a sign of weakness that Italians do not deserve", he tweeted.

Some 113,482 migrants crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe a year ago, according to the United Nations refugee agency, which said 2,262 people lost their lives or went missing making the perilous journey.

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