Malta prime minister says deal reached for 49 migrants to disembark

Malta prime minister says deal reached for 49 migrants to disembark

The migrants will be transferred from the Sea-Watch 3 and Albrecht Penck ships to Maltese coastguard vessels "as soon as possible", Muscat said.

But with no country allowing them to dock, they were left stranded off the coast of Malta, suffering sea sickness and dehydration, with some briefly refusing food and an onboard doctor warning of psychological stress.

Around a dozen countries had said they were prepared to take the 49 people off the boats but Malta insisted on a deal for all 298.

'And next time they will have to float around for longer because the Netherlands will not take part, ' the paper quoted him as saying.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat announced a deal, brokered by the European Union, to end the uncertainty over the migrants who are now aboard two aid vessels.

A ship operated by German rescue group Sea-Watch picked up 32 people on December 22.

"An ad hoc agreement has been reached", Muscat told journalists, adding that the deal also included a decision on the fate of 249 rescued migrants already in Malta.

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.

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The Netherlands is one of eight countries which will take in some of the 32 migrants who have been living on a boat since they were rescued from off the coast of Libya almost three weeks ago.

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

Germany agreed to take 60 migrants from Malta, some from the stranded rescue ships and some Maltese boats rescued in December.

The exact number of migrants that Italy has agreed to host has not been announced, but Conte had previously indicated that Rome was willing to welcome around 15. European Union border agency Frontex says about 57,000 migrant crossings were detected past year in Spain, twice as many as during 2017.

Many people have been heading to Europe from Africa and the Middle East across the Mediterranean in a flight from poverty or armed conflict.

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

Police in Spain said Wednesday they broke up a gang that allegedly smuggled people and drugs on boats from Morocco and charged migrants up to 2,000 euros ($2,300) a trip.

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