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Malta allows more than 400 migrants off ship after threat to kidnap crew

‘They gave us half an hour to act,’ prime minister claims

Zoe Tidman
Sunday 07 June 2020 18:33 BST
Malta has let migrants off tourists boats - one of them picture here - after claiming a group of them threatened to kidnap a crew
Malta has let migrants off tourists boats - one of them picture here - after claiming a group of them threatened to kidnap a crew (AP Photo/Rene Rossignaud)

Malta has reluctantly let more than 400 migrants held on boats to disembark after a group of them threatened to kidnap people working on a ship, authorities have said.

Robert Abela, the prime minister, said the government had been forced to act after he received a direct phone call from one of the crews for help.

“They gave us half an hour to act or they would kidnap the crew,” he said in a TV interview.

The PM said authorities decided against boarding the vessel by force and subduing the migrants after the military warned of the risk of injury to migrants and service personnel.

The government said on Saturday it was seeking agreements to relocate the migrants elsewhere in Europe. It said it decided to let them come ashore “after the situation onboard the vessels became very difficult and commotions arose”.

The migrants have been living on four boats just outside Malta’s territorial waters – some for more than a month – after they were rescued from unseaworthy boats north of Libya from which they set out to reach Europe.

Malta‘s government started putting rescued migrants on chartered tourist boats at the end of April after insisting the country’s harbours were closed due to coronavirus.

It also said the island’s reception centres were full and complained that European Union member states had not kept earlier promises to take migrants from Malta.​

Mr Abela reiterated Malta‘s longstanding complaint that the EU has ignored the plight of the migrants, leaving countries that took in refugee boats to deal with them alone.

Europe’s leading human rights body urged the country earlier this week to let the hundreds of people onboard off the boats.

“The situation of more than 400 persons kept on private ships just outside Malta’s territorial waters is unsustainable and requires immediate action,” Dunja Mijatovic from the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights said.

Women and children had previously been allowed to disembark on humanitarian grounds.

Additional reporting by agencies

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