Malta said on Tuesday it will allow the rescue ship Aquarius to dock on its shores so that the 141 refugees on board can be brought to several other European Union countries.
For four days the humanitarian rescue boat, run by the Franco-German charity SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders (MSF), was forced to float the Mediterranean waters because European countries refused them access to enter their ports.
On Tuesday officials from France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain agreed to take in a portion of the 255 rescued, said Spain’s deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo.
The EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, Dimitris Avramopoulos, commended the countries for welcoming those on board the Aquarius, saying it was an act of EU ‘solidarity.’
Several nations bickered for the past few days over who should take in the migrants traveling mainly from African countries. France remained silent regarding the affair while Italy’s nationalist minister of interior, Matteo Salvini, outwardly rejected the ship and those aboard.
"It can go where it wants, not in Italy!" Matteo Salvini said on Twitter on Monday, mentioning France, Germany, Britain or Malta as possible destinations.
According to Spain's Calvo, Spain will take 60 migrants, France another 60, Germany 50, Portugal 30, Luxembourg five, and 50 will remain in Malta.
Far-right Salvini tweeted about the decision: “On such a sad day, positive news. The NGO (ship) AQUARIUS will go to Malta and the immigrants on board will be distributed between Spain, France, Luxembourg, Portugal, and Germany. As promised, not in Italy, we have already done enough.”
Organizations SOS and MSF said that EU members need to work together for a comprehensive, long-term immigration plan for the union to avoid such scenarios where the already vulnerable are stranded at sea for days.
"Maybe European states have finally understood that this concerns our common border at the south of Europe, that this is a problem for the 28 member states, and that we can't avoid responsibility and should work together," Frederic Penard, director of operations at SOS Mediterranee, told a news conference.
In June, the Aquarius spent nine days floating in the Mediterranean with 630 migrants abroad, which Spain eventually welcomed.
The migrants on the Aquarius were rescued last week from boats floating off the Libyan coast in the Mediterranean. Malta had argued they should be taken to Libya, Tunisia or the Italian island of Lampedusa, all closer to the rescue points.
"The decision was made in a context of humanitarian emergency and highlights the importance of having a lasting and sustainable mechanism to avoid the repetition of crises," French President Emmanuel Macron's office said in a statement.