VALLETTA, Jan. 9 (Xinhua) -- An agreement has been reached on the relocation of stranded migrants rescued by Malta and NGOs from the Mediterranean over the Christmas period.
The Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) have rescued 249 migrants from within Malta's search and rescue area, while two NGO vessels -- the Sea-Watch 3 and Prof Albrecht Penek -- rescued a further 49 migrants since Dec. 22.
The migrants rescued by the AFM were taken to Malta, while those onboard the NGO vessels were left stranded, pending an agreement on their relocation among EU member states.
Addressing a press conference on Wednesday, Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the migrants would be shared with Germany, France, Portugal, Ireland, Romania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Italy. Malta will be keeping 74 migrants.
"220 persons will be relocated to other member states or be returned to their country of origin," Muscat said, adding that the European Commission would facilitate an expedient return, "after due process," of 44 Bangladeshi nationals who were among the 249 migrants rescued by the AFM.
The agreement was reached after talks among EU member states coordinated by the European Commission. Muscat thanked the EU and the member states involved in the redistribution exercise for their solidarity.
Muscat reiterated that the migrants on board the two NGO vessels were rescued outside Malta's area of responsibility, meaning that Malta was not the responsible authority, nor was it the nearest safe port of call. The European Commission, he said, agreed that Malta had no legal responsibility in this case.
"It is very reassuring that the European Commission understands our concerns and stepped in to provide much needed assistance," Muscat said.
Despite the agreement, Muscat said the NGO vessels would not be allowed to berth in Malta and that the transfer of people onto an army patrol boat will happen offshore.