Malta this week brought together nine countries who agreed to distribute among themselves 234 stranded migrants – something that the EU has never managed to do, Joseph Muscat said on Sunday.

Referring to the disembarkation of migrants who had been stranded on the MV Lifeline for six days, the Prime Minister reiterated that the captain of the charity ship had disobeyed orders.

The situation that the Maltese government had to deal with was not the result of some spat between two countries. The ship did not obey the orders by the Italian authorities coordinating the Libyan search-and-rescue zone, he said, adding that the vessel had then lurked in international waters that Malta was responsible for.

Dr Muscat realised that a humanitarian situation could escalate for which Malta would have to answer for, despite not being the one to blame.

"So during an informal summit last week, Malta took the initiative to ask fellow states to come together and avoid an escalation of the situation. Through our efforts we managed to do something that so far, the EU has not managed to do," he said.

"We brought together nine countries who said that they will carry part of the burden. This shows that where there is political will, there is a way. One country took the lead, and the others followed."

During the recorded interview, Dr Muscat insisted that while the EU was investing in the Libyan Coastguard, which had saved thousands of lives over the past few weeks, vessels had to obey the law.

The Dutch authorities, he said, had informed Malta that the MV Lifeline was not registered in the Netherlands, and the vessel, listed as a pleasure boat, was only in possession of a 'logbook' that verified the purchase of the boat.

Meanwhile, the captain was continuously switching off the transponder.

While Malta carried out an investigation into the ordeal, it could not allow other charity vessel berthed here, who were suspected of being in the same position as that of MV Lifeline, to leave Malta's ports, he said.

"While I have great respect towards rescue operations, it is not acceptable that some NGOs sail towards Libya and announce on social media that they can be contacted by those who need to be rescued," Dr Muscat said, adding that he had seen internal EU reports on the matter.

Distinguishing between economic migrants and those seeking asylum from war, whom, he said, usually want to return home when the conflict is over, Dr Muscat said economic migrants who disembarked the MV Lifeline will be sent back. 

Read: Lifeline migrants suffered ‘psychological trauma in Libya’



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