After a week-long standoff, an aid ship carrying 234 migrants docked Wednesday in Malta, as seven fellow European Union countries have agreed to share acceptance of the refugees with the tiny island nation.
Malta, along with Italy, Ireland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Netherlands and Portugal reached an agreement to split the refugees amongst them. The ship rescued the refugees of the coast of Libya this past Thursday, before becoming stranded Friday in the Mediterranean Sea as negotiations over accepting the refugees stalled.
The ship, known as the Lifeline, was operated by German aid group Mission Lifeline. It had earlier been shut out of Italian ports; Matteo Salvini, Italian interior minister and member of the far-right Liga party, had previously told his E.U. colleagues he would not let the country be a “refugee camp.”
According to the Associated Press, Salvini said further private rescue vessels would no longer be welcome, as they “cannot dictate Italy’s immigration policy.”
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said Wednesday the country would vet the migrants to determine if they are refugees or economic migrants — the former group to be resettled, the latter group to be returned to their home countries, Muscat said.
Muscat said the captain of the ship also would be questioned, alleging that he had ignored instructions from the Italian government. A spokesperson for Sea Watch, an organization helping coordinate the Lifeline mission, disputed Muscat’s claim.
Absent from the agreement was E.U. heavyweight Germany. Immigration has become a divisive issue in the nation; a million refugees have entered the country since 2015, the Associated Press reported.
Longtime Chancellor Angela Merkel has seen her ruling coalition at risk of collapse over the issue in recent months. German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, a member of the conservative Christian Social Union, has broken with Merkel on her open-door refugee policy, having advocated to turn away refugees.
Merkel is a member of the more center-right Christian Democratic Party, currently in control of the German government in coalition with the CSU and the Social Democratic Party.
On Thursday and Friday, E.U. leaders will participate in a summit in Brussels to discuss further management of migration. Members of the CSU have warned that if Merkel does not come out of the summit with a concrete solution, the coalition could fracture.
“I do not understand talking about possible future solutions for Europe while not being prepared to do what Germany can do now,” said Alexander Dobrindt, the CSU’s parliamentary leader, according to Politico. “We need to act now.”