ROME -- Malta agreed Saturday to take in some 400 migrants who had been held on chartered pleasure boats at sea pending negotiations with European Union countries to accept them.
The government said in a statement that it was still seeking agreements to relocate the migrants elsewhere in Europe. But it said it decided to let them come ashore “after the situation onboard the vessels became very difficult and commotions arose.”
The migrants have been living aboard four boats just outside Malta’s territorial waters, many for weeks, after being rescued from human traffickers’ unseaworthy vessels in the Mediterranean.
Malta chartered the pleasure boats after closing its ports due to the coronavirus emergency. It said it had been waiting for other EU nations to step up to take them in.
This week, the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights called for the migrants to be immediately brought to shore, saying the situation at sea was unsustainable.
France has agreed to take in some migrants, but hasn’t said how many and has insisted it is up to the EU’s executive commission to organize with other countries.
For years, migrants setting off from Libya have paid smugglers to ferry them to Europe.