The European Commission is ready to coordinate relocation efforts for migrants rescued at sea once disembarkation takes place, a spokesperson for the EU’s executive has told Times of Malta.

Malta is refusing to bring ashore a group of 57 migrants rescued out at sea, instead choosing to hold them outside of territorial waters on a Captain Morgan tourist boat pending a “European solution” for their relocation.

In a strong-worded letter to the Commission, the government has hit out at the over 120 unrealised pledges made by other European countries to take in migrants over the past year, urging for a more predictable and mandatory relocation system. Malta closed its ports last month in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The Commission spokesperson said finding a place of disembarkation for the migrants on the tourist boat was outside of its remit.

“It is a responsibility under international law.”

It is a responsibility under international law

The spokesperson said the Commission acknowledged the “exceptional strain” countries face as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, leading to a lack of both capacity and manpower.

“We encourage all member states to work together and to show solidarity in order to help find solutions in the current challenging situation”.

The Commission spokesperson declined to comment about ongoing investigations in Malta about the deaths of migrants at sea.

Rendering assistance to persons or vessels in distress at sea is an obligation under international law and the Commission expects all European Union countries to respect their obligations under international law to ensure the safety of rescued people, the spokesperson continued.

The spokesperson said the Commission urged all member states to continue working together and with Frontex “in the spirit of solidarity” to ensure the continuity of search and rescue activities and find solutions to disembarkation in the current particularly challenging context.

Former European Court of Human Rights judge Giovanni Bonello told The Sunday Times of Malta that Malta breached the European Convention of Human Rights by effectively pushing back a boatload of migrants to Libya over the Easter period.

The government has faced criticism over its decision to coordinate the return of migrants to Libya by engaging a private fishing vessel to pick them up from a sinking dinghy and hand them over to the Libyan coastguard, which then took them back to migrant camps.

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