Germany could take in some of the 300 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean in recent weeks, but dozens – including five children – remained at sea with no European country offering a safe port.
Sea-Watch 3, a vessel run by a German humanitarian group, plucked 32 people from an unsafe boat off the coast of Libya on December 22 and another German charity Sea-Eye rescued 17 on December 29.
The vessels – carrying 49 people in total – have been sailing back and forth off Malta for days. Crews have expressed concern about the migrants’mental state, exacerbated by bad weather and seasickness.
“The children are sick and there’s no sleeping because of the waves. We are dying slowly in this place,” said Diamond, a Nigerian man rescued by the Sea-Watch 3 who declined to give his last name.
Malta, the smallest EU member state, is asking partners to take in some migrants, including 249 picked up by Maltese navy boats in the last week of 2018.
“The only sustainable outcome is a Europe-wide solution,” Kim Heaton-Heather, Sea-Watch 3 head of mission, told Reuters aboard the ship. “Everyone is trying to get rid of their responsibility.”
Germany is willing to take in 50 migrants as long as other European countries do their part, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said. The Netherlands also indicated it was willing to welcome some.
Italy’s government is split on the issue, with the hard line anti-immigrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini refusing to host a single migrant while Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte offers to take in a small number as long as Malta allows the ships to dock.
Talks to share the migrants are ongoing “and the Maltese government would like to see them concluded in the coming hours,” Malta’s government said in a statement.
“A long-term European solution for similar issues in future should be a priority to avoid a repeat which puts even more burden on a member state like Malta which always abides by its obligations,” it said.
Since Salvini shut Italy’s ports to migrant rescue ships last June, the EU executive commission has conducted negotiations with member states to share out new arrivals before rescue ships are allowed to dock.
Two dozen humanitarian groups, including Save the Children, requested an urgent meeting with the Italian prime minister to end the stand-off at sea.