Malta will not disembark migrants rescued at sea by NGO ships, according to a diplomatic message sent to Germany.
Sources said that a ‘note verbale’ sent to the German Foreign Ministry had informed them that Malta would not agree to rescue people disembarking from the ships even if there was an agreement to share them out among EU member states.
A similar communication was also sent by the Italian government.
German NGO Sea Eye is the only non-governmental organisation still running rescues in the Mediterranean during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Tuesday, the NGO said it was seeking a safe port after it saved 150 people from a number of small boats in distress off the Libyan coast.
And another NGO, Alarm Phone, said that around 80 people had been at sea for over 40 hours with no sign that either Maltese or Italian authorities were launching a rescue mission.
Security sources told Times of Malta that with pockets of good weather forecast for the next few days, a pent-up demand could see a spike in departures from the North African coast.
The crew of a boat flying the Libyan flag fired shots in the air as a warning
It seems that while migration into Libya had ground to a halt in recent weeks, due mainly to the COVID-19 outbreak, there were still thousands of migrants stranded in coastal areas, eager to get on the first boats out to Europe.
“The situation for migrants in Libya right now is precarious. As with day-wagers in Malta, they cannot afford not to work and so will seek better opportunities outside of Libya if they can,” the sources said.
This, however, does not mean that the migrants will necessarily make it into Europe, sources said.
Meanwhile, Sea Eye said its vessel had pulled 68 people from the Mediterranean Sea on Monday morning before picking up dozens more later.
The vast majority of those rescued said they were from Bangladesh, a few from Syria, Chad or Sudan.
The NGO nevertheless appealed to Berlin to help it organise transport for the 150 migrants to Germany following disembarkation.
Meanwhile, in an incident underscoring the risks in saving migrants at present, Sea Eye said the crew of a boat flying the Libyan flag had fired shots in the air as a warning during a recent rescue operation.
“I was very worried about my crew and the refugees when I heard the shots from the Libyans,” Stefan Schuetz, of Sea Eye, said.