EU says Malta has 'humanitarian duty' to let migrants land

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 06, 2013 7:39 AM

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union said on Tuesday the Maltese government, which has refused entry to a tanker carrying 102 African migrants, had a "humanitarian duty" to allow them to land as soon as possible.

The migrants, picked up from the Libyan coast, include four pregnant women, one injured woman and a five-month-old baby, the EU's executive Commission said.

EU member Malta said on Monday that the Liberian-registered tanker carrying the migrants had been stopped by a Maltese ship just outside the island's territorial waters.

"It is the humanitarian duty of the Maltese authorities to allow these persons to disembark. Sending the ship back to Libya would be contrary to international law," a statement from the office of EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said.

The ship's master had sent an urgent medical request because the injured woman needed immediate hospital care, it said, urging Malta to let the migrants land as soon as possible.

The Mediterranean island is facing a record influx of African migrants, with 1,000 arriving in the past month.

The Commission said the priority was to save lives and any dispute about which country was responsible for rescuing the migrants or where they should land should be sorted out later.

(Reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)