Italy blocks migrants, Malta takes them in

Alan Kurdi boat (Ahval news)

VALLETTA – A rescue ship carrying 65 Libyan migrants Sunday night landed in Malta, after being turned away from Italy. The Alan Kurdi, owned by German NGO Sea Eye, had been heading towards Lampedusa but changed course Saturday, reported Il Fatto Quotidiano.

 Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte changed track somewhat, last night taking a government line on the issue and aligning Italy’s stance with that of Malta. The Italian and Maltese governments issued a joint statement Sunday calling for a European-wide solution to the problem that immigrants pose and a change to current EU legislation. Previously, Italy has tried to keep out migrants with domestic legislation.

 The actions of the Alan Kurdi contrast the decision of two other ships which recently defied the Italian government and landed in Lampedusa. Sea Watch 3, led by Captain Carola Rackete, forced its way into the Sicilian harbour on June 26 after over two weeks at sea while another ship, the Alex, docked with 41 migrants Saturday.

 The Alan Kurdi, named after the Syrian three-year-old who drowned in 2015 trying to reach Europe and whose photo brought the plight of refugees to prominence, docked in Malta shortly after 9 p.m.

 Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Twitter in the mid-afternoon that the migrants would be allowed in and relocated to other European countries. However, in the five hours it took for permission to be formally received, representatives on board the ship reported on Twitter that “three of the migrants collapsed in the heat and are receiving urgent medical attention.” Two of them were minors.

 Sea Eye welcomed the news: “Despite great resistance, a solution has been found.” The NGO had explained that it was not “intimidated” by Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini while heading towards Lampedusa. However, it remained in international waters after being informed of the ban on access to Italian waters by the Guardia di Finanza and changed course Saturday night.

 By contrast, the Italian-flagged Alex, owned by NGO Mediterranea, docked with its 41 migrants Saturday. Just like Captain Rackete of Sea Watch 3, the captain was arrested and it under investigation for aiding illegal immigration and the ship was seized. Mediterranea has been fined 16,000 euros.

 This follows a pattern set by Sea Watch, which forced its way into Lampedusa. Captain Rackete was cleared of all initial charges relating to forcing a naval blockade after a brief period of house arrest. She is currently free, but it under investigation for further charges of aiding illegal immigration.

 Following the political turmoil surrounding these three cases, the Italian and Maltese governments have collectively asked for a European-wide solution to the problem of immigrants, rather than a policy to treat incidents on a case-by-case basis. The governments asked for the issue to be added to the next EU Foreign Affairs Council.

 The two foreign ministers of Italy and Malta respectively, Enzo Moavero Milanesi and Carmelo Abela, asked for a “permanent structural mechanism” for dealing with immigration. They said, in a joint statement issued Sunday: “it is essential to ensure effective governance of migratory flows to Europe, because it is no longer permissible to proceed on a case by case basis, seeking solutions in emergencies, with growing political difficulties and very serious hardships.”

 At the moment, EU member states are bound by the so-called Dublin III Regulation, passed in 2013, which defines the obligations states have in evaluating the asylum claims of those who arrive in Europe unauthorised. In effect, it sets out that the asylum claims of an individual should be assessed in the state where they first arrive, in practice usually Italy or Greece.