Malta Admits German NGO Boats Loaded With Migrants

After weeks of waiting, 49 North African refugees on two rescue vessels have received permission to disembark.

Germany has agreed to accept 60 refugees in total amidst ongoing political wrangling within the EU.

Malta has announced that two German NGO rescue ships will be allowed to enter port after being stuck in limbo for weeks in the Mediterranean.

The Sea Watch 3 and the Professor Albrecht Penck rescued 49 North Africans in danger of drowning on December 22 and December 29 respectively. But the ships, which sail under German flags, weren't allowed to land as Germany and other EU nations wrangled about where these refugees and 249 others already in Malta would be sent.

"We're absolutely prepared to accept these fifty people and have been for months," German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told reporters on Tuesday. "But we have set a precondition that a significant number of EU states show joint solidarity."

Specifically, Berlin was insisting that other EU members agreed to take in 249 other refugees already on Malta before it accepted the 49 on the two ships, an interior ministry spokesman told DW.

An interior ministry spokesman confirmed that Germany would take in a total of 60 refugees from both groups.

Maltese President Joseph Muscat was quoted as saying refugees would be distributed to eight EU states: Germany, France, Portugal, Ireland, Romania, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Italy.

The Germany interior ministry said that eight EU members had agreed to participate, but that more might be forthcoming. Germany's contingent wouldn't change in that case, he added.

The NGOs Sea Watch and Sea Eye, which operate the two vessels, have been highly critical of the German government and Seehofer in particular for failing to take in the refugees on the ships.

The Dutch-flagged rescue vessel Sea Watch 3 sails the Mediterranean about 3 nautical miles off Malta's coast (FEDERICO SCOPPA/AFP/Getty Images)

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."

The interior ministry spokesman admitted that the compromise concerning the refugees in Malta was an "ad hoc" measure and not an indication that the EU had made progress toward a long-term agreement on how to distribute refugees throughout the bloc.

You can read this article as it originally appears at Deutsche Welle here.

(PHOTO: Matthew Mirabelli/AFP/Getty Images)

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