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Malta agrees to let last migrants stranded on NGO boat disembark

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VALLETTA (Reuters) – Malta will let five Tunisian migrants stranded on the migrant rescue ship Alan Kurdi disembark after two European Union countries agreed to take them in, the Maltese government said on Tuesday.

The five were part of a group of 13 rescued off Tunisia at the end of August. Eight have already been transferred to Malta for medical reasons, with some having attempted suicide, according to the ship’s crew.

Malta, like neighbouring Italy, had refused to allow the charity boat to enter its waters.

The vessel is operated by the German NGO Sea Eye, which filed a protest against the Malta government in a Maltese court last week. It said Malta had a duty to take in the migrants because they were picked up in its search and rescue zone.

The government has not yet replied to the case and it said on Tuesday that it had now been dropped by Sea Eye.

“Malta agreed to be part of a European solution to solve the impasse by offering disembarkation after NGO Sea-Eye…dropped the judicial protest filed against Malta,” it said in a statement.

It did not say which countries would take in the migrants.

A group of migrants recently rescued by NGO rescue ships and brought to Malta pending their transfer to other countries, scaled wire walls and unfurled banners demanding ‘freedom’ and ‘humanity’ at a detention centre on Monday.

They protested that they had been held in detention for several weeks with no indication of when they would be released.

Some 356 migrants picked up by the rescue ship Ocean Viking were brought to Malta on August 23 and are due to be distributed to France, Germany, Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal and Romania.

The ship had been stranded for two weeks at sea before the deal was agreed. Malta said two groups had already been transferred to France and Germany, but it gave no numbers.

Katrine Camilleri, a lawyer who works for various immigration NGOs, said 800 migrants were being held at the Safi detention centre, near Malta airport.

“The centre is under a lot of strain. It is at full capacity,” she said. “The worst thing of all is that (the migrants) don’t understand what is happening. They are told on arrival that they are there for a medical check and weeks later they are still waiting to be released.”

(Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Angus MacSwan)

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