Migrants sit on the deck of the Sea-Eye rescue ship in the Mediterranean Sea, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2018.
Migrants sit on the deck of the Sea-Eye rescue ship in the Mediterranean Sea, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2018.

ROME - 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.

A man raises his hands during a protest in support of a new EU migration policy, a day before an EU leaders' meeting, in Brussels, Belgium, Dec. 13, 2017.
Depopulation Fears Prompt Some to Question EU’s Freedom of Movement

Political pressure is growing on the European Union from some member states to rethink freedom of movement rules and to start introducing restrictions to stem what they see as disruptive migration.

The latest challenge doesn’t lie with the refugee crisis and the irritation with non-EU migrants easily moving across the continent and cherry-picking which European state to try to settle in, but the concern that migration between EU countries is further depopulating economically depressed regions and towns, condemning them to a gloomy future of being "left behind" permanently.

Last month, the pro

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.

A migrant child helps crew members prepare a meal on the migrant search and rescue ship Sea-Watch 3, operated by German NGO Sea-Watch, off the coast of Malta in the central Mediterranean Sea, Jan. 3, 2019.
Italian Coalition Chiefs Spar Over Stranded Migrants 

The leaders of the populist parties that formed Italy's government sparred Saturday over more migrants who are stranded on private rescue vessels in the Mediterranean Sea, exposing the widening cracks in their coalition's position on immigration.  
 
German humanitarian groups Sea-Watch and Sea Eye are seeking a port where two ships can disembark passengers who were picked up from unseaworthy smugglers' boats, 32 of them on Dec. 22 and 17 more in recent days.  
 
Malta allowed the aid boats to shelter from bad weather near its coast and to take on fresh crew, food and water.

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.

 

FILE - A woman and child are escorted by a police officer upon their arrival in Pratica di Mare's military airport, near Rome, Nov. 14, 2018.
Italian Mayors, Governors Challenge Government Asylum Law

The ranks of prominent citizens opposed to a new Italian law cracking down on asylum-seekers swelled on Monday, with more governors announcing court challenges to the populist government's measure.

The law, approved first in the form of a government decree and later by Parliament late last year, tightens criteria for migrants receiving humanitarian protection, granting that status only to victims of labor exploitation, human trafficking, domestic violence, natural calamities and a few other limited situations.

Previously, many asylum-seekers who failed to qualify for full asylum were accorded

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.