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Europe rights body urges action for migrants stuck off Malta

VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — Europe’s leading human rights organization is calling for immediate action to bring to shore some 400 migrants that the Malta government transferred to chartered pleasure boats at sea.

The Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg, France, said in a statement Thursday that the situation ‘’is unsustainable and requires immediate action.’’ The migrants have been living aboard the boats just out of Malta’s territorial waters, many for weeks, after having been rescued from human traffickers’ unseaworthy boats in the Mediterranean Sea.

Malta chartered the pleasure cruise vessels after closing its ports due to the coronavirus emergency and says it is waiting for other European Union member nations to step up and take in the migrants. So far, only France has agreed.

The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Dunja Mijatovic, has stressed in recent months that migrants should be brought to shore safely and promptly despite the coronavirus pandemic. The commissioner also has underlined that human lives should not be put at risks due to disagreements between EU member states.

“I am concerned that since then, additional ships have been rented and that the number of people kept on them, without a clear prospect of prompt disembarkation, has substantially increased,’’ she said Thursday.

SOS Mediterranee, a humanitarian group that has operated rescue boats in the Mediterranean Sea, earlier this week lamented that the migrants being held on the chartered tourist boats were being used as political pawns.

An Associated Press photographer captured images of the migrants walking on the decks of the boats, their laundry hung from improvised clotheslines. Maltese armed forces were arrayed in boats nearby, keeping watch on the four vessels usually used for pleasure excursions to ferry tourists to the tiny Mediterranean island nation’s attractions.

France hasn’t said how many migrants it will take in, but has insisted it is up to the EU's executive commission to organize with other countries. The European Commission has confirmed it is facilitating talks among EU nations to identify potential destinations for the passengers stuck on the boats off Malta.

‘’There is an urgent need for cooperation and solidarity between member states to find solutions for those on board the Captain Morgan boats,’’ European Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz said Thursday. ‘’They need to be disembarked as soon as possible.’’

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