Malta allows 49 migrants stranded off coast since December to disembark

Italy to take in some of Sea Watch migrants as part of international deal

Italy to take in some of Sea Watch migrants as part of international deal

The 49 asylum seekers who have been stranded at sea for the past 19 days will be redistributed to eight other European Union countries, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced this morning.

Malta now cleared the way for them to disembark.

"After 19 days at sea, our guests finally have a safe haven", a tweet from Sea-Watch's account read.

"We want to express our gratitude to... all cities, federal states and provinces that declared their ports open and their willingness to welcome people".

Malta said another 78 migrants would be allowed to stay in Malta, and 44 Bangladeshi migrants would be sent back to their country.

In a press conference, Muscat confirmed that Germany, France, Portugal, Ireland, Romania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Italy have agreed to take in the migrants that had been rescued by the NGO vessels Sea Watch 3 and Prof.

The number of migrants reaching Spain by sea has surged amid Italy's refusal to let private rescue vessels into its ports.

Priority will be given to vulnerable people including women and children, according to EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos, who welcomed Italy's cooperation but said that a system was needed to avoid such emergency solutions in future.

"The migrants will be transferred from the ships to Maltese patrol boats and brought to Malta".

Celebrations aboard the Sea Watch on Wednesday
Celebrations aboard the Sea Watch on Wednesday

"This represents a confession of state failure, policy must not be made at the expense of people in distress", the NGO said.

"An ad hoc agreement has been reached", said Muscat.

"I reiterate, as I did before, that this case shall not act as a precedent - and I have reassurances that this will not be the case from European institutions".

Like Malta, Italy has refused to let private aid vessels dock in its ports since a year ago.

Pressure on Malta to take rescued migrants has increased since Italy's populist government began turning them away on assuming power more than six months ago.

But Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, of the right-wing League party, said the decision by the European Union countries was "facilitating the work of smugglers and NGOs".

Salvini told reporters during a visit to Poland Wednesday he "absolutely" opposes new migrant arrivals in Italy, clashing with his own premier on the issue.

Despite that, Italy - an effective gateway to Europe for migrants and refugees - maintains its stance of rejecting migrants in principle.

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