Malta has rescued 57 migrants who had been stranded in a dinghy. The migrants were picked up in Malta's search and rescue zone by a fishing boat and taken to a tourist ferry on Thursday evening, according to local media reports. Malta has called for European support.
Following a rescue operation reportedly coordinated by the Maltese government, a group of 57 migrants will remain under quarantine
on the tourist boat -- Europa II -- about 30 nautical miles off the Maltese coast.
The emergency rescue Alarm Phone says it is still trying to confirm that the group of migrants transferred to the tourist vessel is the same one that called the NGO in distress.
Malta and Italy have closed their ports to migrants due to the COVID-19 emergency. Humanitarian groups say EU states should not be risking human lives because of virus measures.
'Pushback' claims rejected
The rescue of 57 migrants this week came as a former advisor to the Maltese Prime Minister's Office, Neville Gafa, said in court that he had helped to coordinate an operation in which migrants were pushed back to Libya.
Pushbacks are against international laws guaranteeing the right to seek asylum and the right not to be returned to possible persecution or danger.
Malta rejected the accusations, saying it
has not been involved in any migrant pushbacks, but that it had prevented boats
from entering the Maltese rescue zone.
Malta calls for EU solidarity
The Maltese government has called on other European countries to take in the rescued migrants. The government said on Friday that it had written to the European Commission asking for help, as its own migrant facilities are full and under lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In the letter, Malta referred to an unprecedented health crisis and a lack of solidarity from European partners, the news agency dpa reports. It said the smallest EU country could not offer a safe place for those rescued at sea.
Last year Malta and Italy reached agreement with other European countries, including Germany and France, on the distribution of migrants arriving on their shores. The deal has been put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic.