A humanitarian ship that has had about 230 rescued migrants on board for almost a week will enter a Maltese port today, ending a standoff with Italy which refused to let the ship dock.
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said seven European Union countries had offered to share the burden of the migrants with Malta. The Lifeline ship, operated by German charity Mission Lifeline, is due to dock at around 16:00 GMT.
“Lifeline will be granted permission to enter a Maltese port, where procedures for identification, ascertaining their asylum eligibility, and distribution to other member states will start immediately,” Muscat told reporters.
“The Maltese government took the lead on a solution before the situation escalated to a humanitarian crisis,” he added, emphasising, however, that the small island nation was not legally bound to take in the vessel.
The Lifeline is the second charity ship that Italy has shut out of its ports this month after the new anti-immigrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said private rescue vessels would no longer be welcome because they “cannot dictate Italy’s immigration policy”.
Muscat said that permitting the ship to dock in Malta was a one-time, or “ad-hoc”, resolution to the standoff. While 650,000 migrants have arrived in Italy by sea since 2014, Malta has allowed in only those needing urgent medical care.
The ship will be detained and the captain questioned, Muscat said, because of its refusal to leave the migrant boats to be intercepted by the Libyan coast guard as it had been told to do by Italian authorities.
Lifeline has repeatedly said that allowing the Libyan coast guard to take the migrants back would have broken international law because the North African country is unsafe for them.