Thursday

28th May 2020

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 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe 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.

News in Brief

  1. EU Commission updates working programme for 2020
  2. EU Commission proposes €750bn recovery fund
  3. EU and Japan in favour of WHO reform
  4. Former top diplomat Mogherini takes over EU college
  5. Denmark partly reopens borders to love
  6. France unveils €8bn 'electric' rescue for car industry
  7. Frontex set for Serbia and Montenegro launches
  8. US military: Russia sent jets to Libya to help mercenaries

Opinion

Europe's migration system is broken: Renew has a plan

The failure of successful integration of migrants and refugees granted stay in Europe puts the entire asylum and migration policy at risk. Member states have to step up their integration policies.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  3. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis
  5. UNESDACircularity works, let’s all give it a chance
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers call for post-corona synergies between economic recovery and green transition

Latest News

  1. Mix of loans and grants in Commission €750bn package
  2. EU recovery agreement deal may need 'personal' summit
  3. Little love, as Berlin bids 'auf Wiedersehen' to Trumpism
  4. Future of Europe Conference: Council urged to move now
  5. Lobbyist register to be tightened after Monsanto case
  6. Hawks to doves? Germany's new generation of economists
  7. Is Russia manipulating food supplies during pandemic?
  8. How Kaczyński ruined Poland, judges tell MEPs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us