Malta allows 49 migrants stranded off coast since December to disembark

A migrant child aboard the Sea Watch vessel

A migrant child aboard the Sea Watch vessel

The announcement came on Wednesday afternoon from Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who for more than two weeks has been refusing to allow the 49 people rescued by the two NGO boats to disembark unless other European Union countries agreed to resettle them.

The Netherlands is one of eight countries which will take in some of the 32 migrants who have been living on a boat since they were rescued from off the coast of Libya almost three weeks ago.

The 49 migrants, including a baby and several children, were rescued by two boats on December 22 and 29 while attempting the risky Mediterranean crossing from North Africa to Europe.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat made the announcement this morning, listing the countries that will be taking in the migrants: Germany, France, Portugal, Ireland, Romania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Italy.

Malta last week allowed the boats to shelter near its coasts from the bad weather but would not let them disembark the migrants.

Malta will take in 78 of the 298 migrants itself.

"The Italian and Maltese authorities have brazenly undermined the search and rescue system and used people as pawns to negotiate migration policies".

Sea-Watch said that the migrants finally have a "safe haven" after three weeks at sea.

The numbers reaching Spain have surged as Italy's crackdowns on private rescue vessels caused the number of boats and migrants heading across the central Mediterranean toward Italian shores to drop sharply.

"We want to express our gratitude to. all cities, federal states and provinces that declared their ports open and their willingness to welcome people".

The migrants will be transferred to Maltese military ships that will bring them ashore.

The deal calls for 300 migrants to be redistributed between eight countries, including Ireland.

"Whether it's eight or 88, I'm not authorizing anyone to enter Italy", Salvini told reporters in Poland, during a visit to his allies in the right-wing populist government there. "Giving in to the pressures and threats of Europe and NGOs is a sign of weakness", he said.

Some 113,482 migrants crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe past year, according to the United Nations refugee agency, which said 2,262 people lost their lives or went missing making the perilous journey.

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