Crossing waters

51, mainly Eritrean migrants that had been stranded off the coast of Malta have finally be allowed to disembark the ship after an agreement was reached to “distribute” the group around Europe. The group had been rescued from the small craft they used to cross from Libya to Malta by a Spanish fishing trawler. Malta claimed the migrants were therefore the responsibility of the Spanish government. On finding the boat in distress, the ship’s captain contacted the Spanish authorities who failed to respond and he made the decision to rescue the group onto his ship. Although safe on board, the conditions were inappropriate (51 migrants plus the crew on a 25metre boat) with no health facilities and the group should not have been made to spend 8 days whilst Malta refused and the rest of Europe procrastinated on what to do.

The experience of the group is similar to the recent group from West Africa who were abandoned off the Atlantic coast of Spain and eventually drifted to Barbados – non survived.

The migrants told The Times of Malta that they left Libya on July 10. Amanisi, a 24-year-old Eritrean migrant who declined to give his last name, told reporters that he had left Eritrea a year ago, went to Ethiopia, then to Sudan and later to Libya. There, he joined a group of migrants, who found a smuggler who asked them each for $1,200 to pay for a boat equipped with a small outboard engine. The migrants said they were told that it would take them at most three days to reach Italy.

But the engine on the overloaded boat stalled soon after leaving Libya, and the boat drifted to sea, prompting the panicked migrants to try desperately to get the attention of the Spanish shrimp trawler fishing nearby.

Yesterday another group of small craft arrived off the coast of Spain in Tenerife with one dead man and two in serious condition and also Malaga and Almeria provinces.

For the first time a joint response was undertaken by the European Union and an agreement was reached to divide the group between Spain, Libya, Malta, Italy and Andorra. Five of the group who are Moroccans will be deported back to Morocco by the EU rather than by any individual country. This marks a change in strategy by European countries which previously have dealt with migrants individually rather than through the EU. The EU Commission announced the formation of a “Pan-European” rapid response force of some 300 people to deal with migrants arriving by sea from North and West Africa.

Note: This meeting took place in Rabat Morocco and not in the EU