Three EU member states have offered to assist Malta with the relocation of some 425 migrants who were finally allowed to disembark on Saturday night after being held on four tourist boats for weeks on end.
A spokesperson for the European Commission said on Monday that three of the bloc's 27 member states have “expressed willingness” to help Malta. He did not say which countries had come forward or what form their help might take.
Questions sent to Malta's Foreign Affairs Ministry were not acknowledged but sources told Times of Malta that the three countries to offer help were France, Portugal and Finland.
Speaking during a press briefing in Brussels on Monday, the spokesperson said the Commission is “relieved that disembarkation has taken place”.
“This also brings more clarity as to the next steps and allows progress to be made on the situation of the persons concerned. We remain in very close contact with Malta,” the spokesperson said.
Other member states are also being encouraged to “equally show their support”.
Migrants aboard the tourist boats were brought to shore late on Saturday after a group aboard one of the boats allegedly threatened to kidnap the crew.
In a statement announcing the decision to disembark the migrants, the government had indicated that most EU member states had failed to offer help. It said relocation negotiations were still ongoing.
Malta had decided to hold migrants aboard chartered tourist boats in late April, saying the country's ports were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prime Minister Robert Abela had subsequently said that the government would not allow migrants into Malta until EU member states stepped up to the plate and made tangible relocation pledges.
EU-wide migrant relocation arrangements have traditionally happened on an ad hoc basis, once migrants have been brought to shore and had their asylum applications processed.
The decision to house the migrants onboard the vessels for over a month sparked outrage, with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) calling for greater coordination, solidarity and responsibility sharing in view of the increased movements of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean.
Faced with appeals to bring the migrants ashore, Foreign Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo said Malta could not be expected to shoulder the weight of migration on its own “when ultimately it is protecting a European external border.”
“Malta will do its part on migration, but we will not and cannot be Europe’s crisis centre,” he had said in May in a video uploaded on Facebook.