A humanitarian ship, The Lifeline, operated by German charity Mission Lifeline, that has had about 230 rescued migrants on board for almost a week docked in Malta on Wednesday, ending a standoff with Italy which refused to let the ship into one of its ports.
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said seven European Union countries had offered to share the burden of the migrants with Malta. “The Maltese government took the lead on a solution before the situation escalated to a humanitarian crisis,” he added, emphasizing, however, that the small island nation was not legally bound to take in the vessel.
Muscat said that permitting the ship to dock in Malta was a one-time, or “ad hoc,” resolution to the standoff. While 650,000 migrants have arrived in Italy by sea since 2014, Malta has allowed in only those needing urgent medical care.
The Lifeline is the second charity ship that Italy has shut out of its ports this month after the new anti-immigrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said private rescue vessels would no longer be welcome because they “cannot dictate Italy’s immigration policy.”
Immigration has become an urgent political issue across the EU in recent weeks, since the new Italian government took power earlier this month and German Prime Minister Angela Merkel’s coalition split over the issue.