Malta says Spain will accept migrants rescued by fishing vessel near Libya

Maltese authorities agreed to take the 12 people on board but only as a temporary measure for “humanitarian reasons”

Rescued migrants on board ‘Nuestra Madre Loreto.’
Rescued migrants on board ‘Nuestra Madre Loreto.’Javier Fergo (AP)

Spain will accept at least 11 of the 12 migrants rescued several weeks ago by the Spanish fishing vessel Nuestra Madre Loreto off the coast of Libya, according to Maltese authorities. The migrants were rescued by the fishermen while fleeing the Libyan Coast Guard on a rubber dinghy. Three of them scrambled on board while another eight threw themselves into the water and were picked up by the ship.

Malta did not have an obligation to take them in because they were not rescued in Maltese waters and Malta was not the closest port

Maltese Interior Minister Kurt Farrugia

At the time of the rescue, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez claimed that the migrants should be returned to Libya as it was the nearest point and therefore the safest. Humanitarian organizations, including the UN’s Refugee Agency UNHCR, criticized Spain’s decision to leave the migrants’ fate in the hands of Libya, which is known to auction off and torture migrants.

Pascual Durá, the fisherman in charge of the ship, was also concerned about the danger and set course instead for Spain on Saturday.

“[The migrants] are fleeing from these barbarities. They jumped into the water precisely because they were trying to escape the Libyan [Coast Guard]. Also it could be dangerous for us because if they realize we are getting closer, they could stage a mutiny,” explains Durá from a satellite phone on his boat.

On the way back to Spain, the 29-year-old was informed that Malta had given the ship authorization to bring the migrants to shore. The deal included the 12th migrant, who was brought to Malta last Friday for health problems.

We couldn’t leave them there. It was our duty to rescue them. I won’t leave anyone to drown in front of me

Fishing vessel captain Pascual Durá

Malta’s interior minister and head of national security, Kurt Farrugia, told Reuters this was a temporary solution for “humanitarian reasons.”

According to Farrugia, the rescued migrants will be taken to Spain once they receive medical attention and recover. “Malta did not have an obligation to take them in because they were not rescued in Maltese waters and Malta was not the closest port,” said Farrugia in a message on Twitter.

When asked about the situation on Sunday morning, Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo did not want to provide any information on the conditions of the negotiations or confirm whether or not Spain would accept the migrants.

Malta refused to opens its ports until the very last minute and it was not until midnight on Sunday that Nuestra Madre Loreto was given authorization. The ship, however, was not allowed to dock in Malta but was instead met by another boat 12 miles off the coast, said Durá.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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