A group of 204 migrants who landed in Malta over the past weeks are being relocated to other European countries, the government said on Monday.

Discussion on the relocation of a further 80 are ongoing, the government said, with some member states having made pledges to take them in. The European Commission would be following up on those promises, the government said.

It added that relocation negotiations kicked off when Malta closed its ports as a result of the public health emergency called over COVID-19. 

The government statement gave no indication of which EU member states had agreed to relocate migrants. 

Tensions between Malta and other EU member states over migrant relocation efforts have been ratcheted up in recent months, with Malta accusing many of its larger European counterparts of failing to live up to their promises of solidarity.

Malta closed its borders to asylum seekers during the COVID-19 pandemic and used fishing vessels to return one group of migrants to Libya before changing tack and instead hired idle tourist cruise boats to house people on. 

More than 400 migrants were held aboard the tourist boats for weeks before being brought to Malta early in June, as people aboard grew increasingly restless

All throughout, Malta continued to negotiate with other member states to relocate migrants and introduce a more structured relocation mechanism. 

In its statement on Monday, the government also said that it was upping its efforts to speed up the processing of asylum applications for migrants coming from countries without security threats. Those migrants will be repatriated if their asylum applications are rejected. 

The relocation announcement came as another migration crisis played out at sea. More than 50 people are being held in an area designed to house animals aboard a livestock transport ship off Malta.

The MV Talia rescued the migrants on Saturday on instructions of the Malta Rescue Centre. It was allowed into territorial waters on Sunday to shelter from rough seas but was then denied permission to disembark them, pending an agreement with other EU states on their redistribution.

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