Malta, Italy push for more EU help with rescued migrants

VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — Italy and Malta yesterday lobbied for systematic help from fellow European Union (EU) nations to take in migrants rescued at sea, as the latest humanitarian ship sailed toward Sicily with some 180 people saved from smugglers’ flimsy boats in the central Mediterranean.

The Italian and Maltese interior ministers, joined by those of France and Germany and by EU officials, were brainstorming in Malta to work out an automatic mechanism that would ensure migrants saved at sea are distributed among other EU countries.

Current EU rules said refugees and other asylum-seekers must stay in the country where they arrive while their cases are processed, but most migrants hope to reach northern Europe to find jobs or rejoin family members who have successfully emigrated there.

Italy’s previous two governments cracked down on humanitarian ships, especially former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini whose right-wing League party has gained popularity at home with anti-migrant positions. Contending that such rescues essentially facilitate traffickers, Salvini refused to let charity boats dock in Italy to disembark migrants.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said the aim was to achieve an “emergency mechanism” for the next few months until the incoming European Commission can start work on a permanent arrangement. Seehofer said thorny questions include which ports can be used, how to distribute the migrants in Europe and how to fight human traffickers.

“For me the most important thing is that we finally find a solution for the year-long European debate about the right to asylum. The first step would be an agreement on rescue at sea,” Seehofer said, describing himself as “cautiously optimistic”.

Migrants lift up SOS Mediterranean’s Deputy Search and Rescue Coordinator Basile Fischer during a celebration aboard the Ocean Viking in the Mediterranean Sea. PHOTO: AP