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MALTA agreed to save France’s blushes last night by allowing a refugee rescue vessel to dock after the Macron government ignored pleas by French officials.
Aid boat the Aquarius, operated by French aid groups SOS Mediterranee and Medecins sans Frontieres, rescued 141 refugees last Friday in two operations in the Mediterranean off Libya.
Jean-Guy Talamoni, the president of Corsica’s local assembly, told Europe-1 yesterday: “It’s an obligation to help people in danger.”
Sete port director Jean-Claude Gayssot, a former communist minister, said: “There are emergency situations and you have to deal with them.”
The boat needed the approval of French authorities to enter any port and French President Emmanuel Macron made no comment on his compatriots’ pleas.
The Maltese government agreed to let the Aquarius dock as part of what it called a “responsibility-sharing exercise,” declaring: “Malta will be making a concession allowing the vessel to enter its ports, despite having no legal obligation to do so.”
It said that Malta would serve as a logistical base and that all the migrants aboard would be distributed among France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain.
Malta also noted that it had rescued 114 persons at sea on Monday, with 60 of them destined to go to other EU nations as part of co-operation in the European Union.
Mr Macron tweeted thanks to Malta “for its humanitarian gesture,” adding: “There’s no alternative to co-operation.”
Portugal, which will take 30 of those aboard the Aquarius, was the first country to say it could take in some of the refugees.
SOS Mediterranee and Medecins sans Frontieres said that many aboard were weak and malnourished after receiving scanty rations while detained, often for months, in Libya, awaiting the opportunity to leave aboard human traffickers’ unseaworthy boats.
Sixty-seven of those rescued are unaccompanied minors.
• The UN refugee agency voiced concern yesterday over 1,900 refugees, originally from the western Libyan city of Tawergha, being driven out of their homes in the Triq al-Matar camp last week by the Misrata militia, which accuses them of being supporters of murdered dictator Muammar Gadaffi.
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