Wrapped in a purple and white rag, a baby girl who was born on a migrants' boat at sea was yesterday airlifted to safety by members of the armed forces.

"She cried on and off as I lifted her out of the boat in a special harness for babies. It was a good sign she was crying, at least we knew she was alright... I think she was just minutes old," Neville Cilia, a sergeant from the AFM's air wing, said.

Once the baby was safe, her mother was winched up to the helicopter on a stretcher as a measure of precaution, Mr Cilia explained, adding she was later given medical assistance.

The mother and child were aboard a boat carrying 84 migrants that was located about 90 miles south of Malta.

The boat was reported by the Italian Ministry of Transport's Rescue Coordination Centre which alerted the AFM yesterday morning.

The boat was last reported making steady progress northwards at six knots, an army spokesman said.

In a similar rescue last November, a baby girl born at sea and her Somali mother were brought to Maltese shores by a Russian ship. Since then the mother, 25-year-old Hatra Chama, has been calling on authorities to grant her baby a birth certificate.

Ms Chama filed a court case arguing that without this certificate her child, now nine months old, did not have a formal identity, status and citizenship that everyone has a right to.

Before moving to France on a burden-sharing initiative, Ms Chama applied for her child's certificate at the public registry but her request was denied. As the certificate cannot be issued in France, it would leave the child with no formal identity.

Last year 60 babies were born to migrant mothers housed in open centres. Contrary to popular belief, children born in Malta to immigrants do not automatically qualify for citizenship.

For citizenship to be granted to a child, one of the parents has to be Maltese. In Malta, refugees can be granted citizenship after living on the island for 10 years and only after applying and going through background checks.

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