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EU Diplomatic Deadlock Continues Over How to Distribute Rescued Migrants

Migrants sit on the deck of the Sea-Eye rescue ship in the Mediterranean Sea, Jan. 8, 2018. Two German nonprofit groups are appealing to European Union countries to take in 49 migrants whose health is deteriorating while they are stuck on rescue ships in the Mediterranean Sea.

Humanitarian organizations say migrants are being held hostage at sea because European countries are unable to agree how those rescued at sea should be relocated. The latest crisis involves migrants rescued by two German vessels.

Forty-nine migrants rescued by two German humanitarian vessels, the Sea Watch and Sea Eye, continue to be stationed off the coast of the southern Mediterranean island of Malta, waiting to know what their fate will be.

The Sea Watch rescued 32 migrants from a smugglers' boat on December 22. Seventeen others were saved by the Sea Eye on December 29. On board there is one baby and a number of children. Both vessels have asked Malta and Italy to allow them to disembark, but both countries have refused, saying the European Union must intervene.

Non-governmental organization officials are concerned about the psychological state of those on board, with some migrants refusing to eat. Some have been vomiting to due to weather conditions. Supplies on board are also limited and water is being rationed.

Philippe Hahn, who heads operations for Sea Watch, says the rescued have one thing in common: they are doing everything they can to flee the hell of Libya and they risk anything to do so.

Pope Francis has called for countries to show solidarity with migrants, but Malta says it already allowed 200 migrants to disembark last week and cannot do anymore at the moment.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini says Italy has done enough and it will not allow a single migrant to come off boats on its coastline this year.

League party member Massimiliano Romeo summed up the Italian government's position.

The League's position is clear: stop the boats to stop the dead, and therefore stop the trafficking of human beings, he said, adding Italy has done its share and other EU nations need to do their part.

Speaking Tuesday in Berlin, Sea Watch's Alina Krobok called the current situation a "European failure", as negotiations continue the effort to break the diplomatic deadlock among EU member states over how to relocate migrants.

She says a lasting policy decision is needed by European countries about where these people should be taken and how to distribute them, even before they are on shore. She adds it is unacceptable people are stranded at sea because European states are still busy playing with numbers.

More than 20 Italian based humanitarian organizations have appealed for the immediate disembarkation of migrants and have requested an urgent meeting with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte to clarify what Italy is doing to break the deadlock.