Malta allowed the 49 migrants stranded on two humanitarian rescue ships since last month to disembark at its port on Wednesday.
The Sea-Watch 3 ship, which is run by a German humanitarian group, picked up 32 people from a boat off the coast of Libya on December 22.
Another German-run organisation, Sea-Eye, rescued 17 others a couple of days later on December 29. The two ships were stranded at sea for weeks after Italy, Malta and all other EU countries refused to offer them a port of safety.
After weeks of waiting, the refugees on the two rescue vessels were finally permitted to disembark on Wednesday ending an embarrassing political impasse in the EU.
Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat at a press conference said the migrants and 249 other refugees already in the country would be redistributed between eight EU countries including Germany, France, Portugal, Ireland, Romania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Italy. A federal interior ministry official has confirmed that Germany would take in a total of 60 refugees from both groups.
The NGOs Sea-Watch and Sea-Eye, which operate the two vessels, have been highly critical of the German government in particular for failing to take in the refugees on the ships. On Tuesday, the two groups held a joint press conference at which they described the rapidly deteriorating hygienic and psychological conditions on board the vessels.
“The EU is releasing its 49 hostages,” Sea-Watch tweeted after the refugees were allowed on land. “After 19 days at sea, our guests are now in a safe port. It’s a sign of government failure — politics should never be pursued at the cost of people in need.”