Malta will take in migrant rescue ship: Italy

ROME: Malta will let the rescue ship Lifeline dock after Italy refused it entry, ending the vessel’s near week-long wait in the Mediterranean with more than 230 migrants on board, Italy’s prime minister said on Tuesday.
The offer resolved a standoff with Rome, where a new populist government, co-led by the anti-immigrant League party, has shaken European migration policy by announcing it will no longer let in ships operated by charities that rescue migrants. The dangerous sea route to Italy has been the main route into Europe for asylum seekers from Africa, many thousands of whom have died at sea over the past few years.
Lifeline said overnight one person had to be evacuated for medical reasons and that general conditions onboard were worsening.
Mission Lifeline, the aid group that runs the ship, welcomed Malta’s offer but said on Twitter “we now need EU countries to welcome the people.”
Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said his Maltese counterpart Joseph Muscat told him about his decision in a phone call.
The Lifeline has already spent five days stuck in international waters.
After reaching Malta, the migrants will be divided up among European Union members who are willing to take them in, Conte said.
He did not say when it would arrive. Conte said the ship would then be impounded and its captain investigated over reports that he ignored instructions to let the Libyan coastguard pick up the migrants.
Malta has yet to confirm, but issued a statement earlier saying it had been participating in discussions with Brussels to find a diplomatic solution that involved “the sharing of responsibility by a number of member states”. Immigration has become an urgent political issue across Europe in recent weeks, since the new government took power in Italy and German Prime Minister Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition split over the issue. Europe took in more than a million migrants, mainly asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa, in 2015.
Since then, the numbers have fallen sharply. One main route, from Turkey to Greece, was largely shut in 2016, and numbers have fallen to tens of thousands so far this year, a 77 per cent decline on 2017, when almost 120,000 came to Italy.
But the issue still sharply divides European governments and has led to a surge in anti-immigrant and far right political movements across the continent. Countries that have taken in large numbers of asylum seekers want other EU countries to share the burden. Eastern European states, which have taken in among the smallest numbers so far, refuse to accept more and have turned the issue into a central focus for nationalist governments. — Reuters