Pope Francis on Sunday issued an appeal for effective solidarity by European governments with 49 migrants stranded on two ships which are sheltering from rough seas off Malta.

In remarks following the Angelus at St Peter's Square, Pope Francis said: "49 persons rescued from the Mediterranean Sea have been aboard two NGO ships for several days, seeking harbour for disembarkation. I urgently appeal to European leaders to show concrete solidarity with these people."

Malta late last week allowed the two ships, Sea Watch 3 and Sea Eye, to enter its territorial waters for shelter from rough seas, while making it clear it could not be held responsible for migrants who were rescued in areas which were not within its competence. On Sunday, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said letting them in would set a precedent. Italy has also kept its harbours closed, amid contradictory statements by its two deputy prime ministers.

The Netherlands and Germany have indicated they are ready to take some of the migrants.

Malta has been involved in diplomatic efforts being made by the European Commission for the migrants to be disembarked and distributed among several EU countries. Malta is also calling for 249 other migrants, rescued by the Maltese armed forces and landed in Malta, to also be distributed among several EU countries.

Last week, the bishops of Malta and Gozo wrote to European bishops urging them to insist with their governments on action to help migrants stranded at sea.


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