Migrants on the Open Arms celebrate after being allowed to disembark | Photo: Pictuura-alliance
Migrants on the Open Arms celebrate after being allowed to disembark | Photo: Pictuura-alliance

The over 80 migrants who disembarked on Lampedusa are once again in limbo. EU states have not sorted out yet how they will be relocated. One week ago, six countries had declared their general willingness to take the migrants in.

Following Tuesday's disembarkation, it is still not clear what will happen to the 83 migrants who spent 19 days on the Open Arms rescue ship. A European deal to distribute them has not yet come into effect.

There were initially 147 mainly African migrants on the Open Arms, but as the ship was denied permission to enter a European port, some migrants were evacuated for medical care and all minors were allowed to disembark as days passed.

On August 15, six countries – Germany, France, Spain, Portugal, Romania and Luxembourg – agreed to take the migrants in. Even after this announcement, Italy refused to open its ports to the private rescue organization. Only after another five days, the ship was given permission to dock by a Sicilian prosecutor who, with this decision, effectively overruled Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini's closed-port policy.

What happens now

The EU announced Wednesday that it would supervise the planned relocations. Meanwhile, EU asylum agents are in charge of pre-screening the migrants to see whether they are eligible for refugee protection. 

The French government, which had agreed to take in some 40 migrants, said it was sending a delegation from its refugee agency, Ofpra, to look at the situation. 

Germany's interior ministry announced the relocation was "to be organized now," but no details were given regarding how many migrants Germany is going to accept.

Possible fine for sea rescue

While no information about the planned relocation of migrants to Spain was made public, the Spanish government said it could hit Proactiva Open Arms with a large fine for rescuing the migrants. (The Open Arms operates under the Spanish flag.) "The Open Arms doesn't have a permit to rescue," Spain's Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo told Spanish media on Wednesday.

The Open Arms had been authorized to leave Barcelona in April after a three month blockage ordered by the Spanish government. The authorization, however, only encompassed the transport of aid supplies to migrants on the Greek islands. The ship had been prohibited from entering official search and rescue zones in the Central Mediterranean. Fines from 300,000 to 900,000 euros ($340,000 to one million dollars) had been announced in April by Madrid. 

Ocean Viking still waiting for safe port

Meanwhile, the rescue ship Ocean Viking carrying 356 migrants is still waiting for permission to dock at a safe port. The first of four rescue operations took place nearly two weeks ago on August 9. The charity Doctors without Borders (MSF) says there are traumatized migrants on board and that "it's a complete shame" that they are being left in limbo. "It is inhumane. There needs to be concrete action. This is not how people should be treated," Jay Berger, MSF project coordinator said via satellite phone Thursday.

The ship has been sailing between the Italian island of Linosa and Malta in international waters, AP reports.


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