World News

Malta lands rescued migrants held in squalid condition on animal transporter

VALLETTA (Reuters) - A group of 50 migrants who were rescued at sea and stranded in unsanitary conditions on an animal transport ship for four days has been allowed to disembark in Malta.

The MV Talia picked up the migrants off Libya on Saturday and was refused permission to take them to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Its captain on Sunday pleaded with the Maltese authorities to let the mostly-Somali migrants ashore, saying they were living in dirty conditions in spaces normally used for animals.

He said the ship had just unloaded animals in Libya and crew had no time to clean the quarters before the rescue took place. Rough seas meant the migrants could not be kept on deck.

Malta had been refusing to land migrants without prior redistribution agreements with the EU, arguing that its reception centres are full and it already has too many migrants.

In April and May it put 425 rescued migrants on chartered tourist boats just outside territorial waters but by early June was forced to bring them to shore amid fears of a takeover of one of the boats.

Prime Minister Robert Abela, who met Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs on Monday, said migration was a European problem. “I insist on the point of having a mechanism of relocation that would kick in automatically. Today, we do not have such a concrete mechanism.”

On Tuesday the government said it had reached an agreement with the European Commission for some 200 migrants to be sent to other EU countries although it did not specify which ones.

Reporting by Christopher Scicluna; Editing by Alexandra Hudson