Sunday

20th Jan 2019

Commission: stalemate on migrants off Malta due to swelling numbers

  • 32 people have stuck on the Sea-Watch since 22 December (Photo: Sea Watch)

The European Commission says 49 migrants stranded on two NGO boats off the Maltese coast since last month have yet to be helped by EU states - because of another 249 people recently rescued by the island-nation's navy.

Paraskevi Michou, who leads the commission's migration department, told MEPs on Monday (7 January) that nothing has happened because the 249 rescues "makes the calculation bigger".

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Her comments follow a meeting on the same day with EU states in Brussels in an effort to resolve the issue and is a demonstration of how numbers factor into EU-level decision-making when it comes to helping people in distress.

Some 32 people, including children and minors, have been stuck on the Sea-Watch rescue boat since 22 December. Another 17 were rescued by Sea Eye, also a German charity vessel, on 29 December.

Michou said 10 EU states had expressed some interest in helping, but when asked why nothing has been done she pointed to the 249 figure.

"It is not only Sea-Watch and Sea Eye, it is 'plus 249', so it makes the calculation bigger," said Michou.

Both boats are now moored off the Maltese coast as conditions worsen with reports that some migrants are now refusing to eat in protest.

Michou made the statements to MEPs in the European Parliament's civil liberties committee following a presentation of a study, also at the committee, that suggests the overall lack of coordinated EU action on asylum costs the taxpayer some €49bn a year.

"Member states say they are prepared to find a solution - but they can't find a solution for these 40 people, it is a crazy situation," said French far-left MEP Marie-Christine Vergiat.

Portugal's centre-left MEP, Ana Gomes, made similar comments.

"What is the point of having these offers if nothing works, if you allow the other 18 to block it?" she said.

Italy's centre-left MEP Cecile Kyenge said that there should be an obligation to allow people to disembark.

"You cannot not let people stay there on the vessels on the high seas while we come up with political solutions," she said, noting that the stand-off makes a mockery of the EU's Nobel Peace prize.

Women and children first?

Another divide has also appeared in Italy's coalition government over the issue, as the leader of the Five Star movement, Luigi Di Maio, suggested the country take in the 10 women and children stranded on the NGO boats.

The offer was quickly shot down by Italy's deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, who also leads the far-right League party, despite recent pleas by Pope Francis for EU states to grant a safe port for the stranded migrants.

The commission says the stand-off highlights the need for a better-coordinated EU response but the demand is unlikely to materialise following years of acrimonious policy debates among EU states on asylum reforms.

In early December, the commission had floated vague proposals on "temporary arrangements" as a stop-gap measure to test concepts of solidarity when it comes to sea rescues and disembarkation.

The stalled reforms include an overhaul of the Dublin regulation, an EU-wide system that determines who is responsible for handling asylum applications.

After two years of internal talks, EU states have failed to come to any position on the file. The EU parliament formulated its position in 2017.

The task to get the file closed among EU states is now under the charge of the Romanian EU presidency but the prospect of a reaching a settlement before the European elections in May is slim.

NGO Mediterranean rescue standoff exposes EU rift

Conditions on the Dutch flagged Sea-Watch 3, an NGO boat with 32 rescued migrants onboard, continue to deteriorate - as EU states refuse to take them in. The youngest on board is a one-year old infant.

EU leaders stuck on asylum reform

Migration was overshadowed by Brexit at the EU summit, with leaders stuck on key legislation. Some warned that free movement could be at risk.

Opinion

Migration and May elections - time to get facts right

If misinformation in the field of migration can bring a government down, as in the recent case of Belgium following the country's adoption of the UN migration pact, then it can doubtless produce a populist majority in the European parliament.

Eight EU states take migrants stranded on NGO boats

France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal and Romania have agreed to relocate the 49 migrants stuck on two NGO boats moored, for almost three weeks, off Malta's coast.

Opinion

Trump's wall vs Europe's sea

Though we would never admit it, the only difference between Trump and the EU is we don't need a wall - because we're 'fortunate' enough to have the Mediterranean.

Analysis

Goodnight, Vienna! Mixed bag from Austrian presidency

When Austria took over the EU presidency, chancellor Sebastian Kurz declared that his government - in a coalition with the far-right FPO - would use its six-months tenure to promote what he called "a Europe that protects".

News in Brief

  1. EU trade commissioner asks for green light for US talks
  2. Slovakia's commissioner takes unpaid leave to run for presidency
  3. Minority elects Lofven as prime minister of Sweden
  4. Putin opposes EU prospects of Serbia and Kosovo
  5. Tsipras launches campaign to ratify Macedonia deal
  6. US-EU meeting in doubt after Trump cancels plane
  7. Germany and China to sign pact on finance cooperation
  8. Labour divided on second Brexit vote plan

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. Aachen treaty and Brexit endgame This WEEK
  2. Germany led way on EU rights protection
  3. How to troll the European Parliament elections
  4. MEPs in Strasbourg: everywhere but the plenary
  5. Brexit delay 'reasonable', as May tries cross-party talks
  6. MEPs allow Draghi's membership of secretive bank group
  7. EU parliament backs Morocco deal despite row
  8. Barnier open to 'future relations' talks if UK red lines shift

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us