[WATCH] Updated | European ministers agree on migrant disembarkation and relocation system

Home affairs ministers from five EU countries reach agreement on migrant redistribution, but few details revealed

A migration meeting between five EU countries was hosted in Malta on Monday
A migration meeting between five EU countries was hosted in Malta on Monday

Home affairs ministers from five EU countries have reached an agreement which can serve as a basis for the redistribution of migrants. 

Ministers from France, Italy, Finland, Germany and Malta, who attended a migration meeting hosted at Fort St Angelo in Birgu on Monday, said, without giving details, that they had come to an agreement and drafted a common framework.

The framework suggests a “predictable and structured set of temporary arrangements” which would apply in cases where migrant vessels are rescued at sea, EU Commissioner for migration Dimitris Avramopoulos said.   

The ministers were quite taciturn when it came to the substance of the agreement, but German interior minister Horst Seehofer told MaltaToday that an arrangement was reached with regard to the maximum amount of time refugees can remain detained or at sea before relocation. 

Read also: Migration summit: NGOs tell EU to 'get your ships together'

"We need to answer this question permanently. I am very satisfied that we have indeed reached a regulation agreement for emergency rescue. We cannot leave Malta on its own. We are inviting other member states to come on board with this agreement," he said. 

"Those asylum seekers who arrive in Malta and Italy are arriving in Europe. This is the perception of European citizens. We have a strong willingness to work together," Italian home affairs minister Luciana Lamorgese said. 

"Today we have reached an agreement - this is just the first stop but it is an agreement which collected our four countries concerned with immediate solutions. We want to accompany Malta. The target of the agreement is to save lives, not to open a gate to Europe but to show solidarity with Malta and Italy," French interior minister Christophe Castaner highlighted.

Malta's home affairs minister Michael Farrugia said that despite the general fact that EU member states refused to adhere to a burden-sharing mechanism, this too was discussed during the meeting. 

"There is a proposal so that we can rekindle the discussion on the Dublin regulation and to reach some form of agreement. Not all countries are pulling the same rope with the misfortune being that this is a human problem and there needs to be solidarity," Farrugia said. 

A common paper drawn up at the meeting will be presented in Luxembourg on 8 October during a Council meeting for Home Affairs. The paper will be presented to the interior ministers of the other 24 member states.

Avramopolous, said he was optimistic and that the outcome of the meeting was good. 

"We all agree that the current ad hoc approach is simply not sustainable. Today we can make good progress towards structural arrangements.

"We will continue to provide active support, both operationally and financially. Let's establish a more practical solidarity solution," he said. 

Finnish interior minister Maria Ohisalo emphasised that the European Common asylum system needs to be renewed and that a shared responsibility involving a large number of member states needed to be reached.

Asylum-seeker disembarkation deal shows a more humane approach is possible - Amnesty International

The agreement reached today on a temporary mechanism for disembarking people rescued in the Central Mediterranean is a positive step for protecting the rights of refugees and migrants, Amnesty International said.

“Details of the agreement are still to be disclosed, but we expect it to lead to the establishment of a reliable system to ensure that people rescued in the Central Mediterranean are promptly and safely disembarked in Europe and that EU countries step up and share responsibility for them,” said Eve Geddie, Director of the European Institutions Office at Amnesty International.  

“We hope this mechanism will put an end to the obscene spectacle of people left stranded on boats for weeks waiting to know where, or even if, they can disembark. Speedier disembarkations are essential for those rescued in the Central Mediterranean who have often already suffered horrific abuse in detention centres in Libya and a perilous sea journey – they are exhausted and in need of protection and care.” 

NGOs undertaking search and rescue have faced criminal prosecutions, the impounding of their vessels, the imposition of heavy fines and the arrest of their staff just for upholding the duty to save lives at sea and trying to disembark them in a safe place, Amnesty International noted.

Having disembarked a significant number of people this year, without adequately preparing for such scenario, Malta’s reception and asylum system is strained, the NGO acknowledged, with hundreds of men, women and children are held in sub-standard conditions.

Many of them, it said, have been unlawfully detained, as they are held far longer than the maximum period permitted by national law, which is intended only to allow for medical checks on arrival. 

“While we hope the new mechanism will assist Malta with the pressures on its asylum and reception system, Maltese authorities must understand that there is no place nor excuse for arbitrary detention in Malta”, Geddie said.

The NGO underscored that lawyers and representatives of organizations who regularly visit the detention facilities told Amnesty International that the centres were seriously overcrowded, that separation between adults and children is not ensured, and that conditions are squalid with people having inadequate access to basic necessities such as clean underwear and toiletries.  

“Although limited to people rescued in the Central Mediterranean, today’s agreement is a sign that European leaders may be finally stepping up to manage migration towards Europe more responsibly and humanely. Now it is paramount that more member states join soon,” Geddie added.