ROME ( Associated Press) – A German humanitarian group on Wednesday called on Malta to take in 32 migrants rescued from Libya this week by the Ukrainian captain of a container ship.
The request came when Pope Francis, who is visiting Malta this weekend, urged the small European Union nation in the central Mediterranean to welcome refugees in general.
The migrants were rescued Monday by the crew of a German merchant vessel and transferred to the Sea-Eye 4, which is operated by the German non-governmental organization Sea-Eye. The group hopes the Maltese authorities will dock the ship and leave the passengers on board.
The merchant vessel Karina sailed from Malta to Benghazi, Libya, when the crew became aware of an emergency call and pulled the migrants to safety from a human smuggler boat that had set sail in the Mediterranean at 4 meters (13 feet) high waves. , Sea-Eye said in a statement.
Sea-Eye quoted Karina’s captain, Vasyl Maksymenko, as saying that “the boat was in serious danger of capsizing” when his vessel came to the rescue.
Sea-Eye 4 was about 50 hours away from reaching the battered boat, but later met with the Karina and took the rescued passengers on board, some of whom suffered from dehydration and hypothermia, the NGO said.
A Sea-Eye spokesman tweeted a “thank you” in Ukrainian for the captain.
Sea-Eye said its ship was seeking permission to dock in Malta, which has often rejected similar requests to allow migrants rescued from unsavory boats launched by Libya-based smugglers.
There was no immediate indication whether Malta would grant Sea-Eye 4 port access.
Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Malta on Saturday and Sunday while on a pastoral pilgrimage. During his traditional public hearing on Wednesday, he quoted Malta’s early history of a welcoming place for the shipwrecked.
“In that bright land I will be a pilgrim in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul, who was welcomed with great humanity after suffering a shipwreck while on his way to Rome,” Francis said, referring to a celebrated episode in the history of the Catholic Church.
The pope said his trip would be an opportunity “to meet the people of a country that is in the middle of the Mediterranean and in the south of the European continent, even more involved today in welcoming so many brothers and sisters seeking refuge. ”
According to tradition widely observed in Malta, Paul was taken to Rome in about 60 AD to be tried as a political rebel when the ship transporting him and more than 200 others was destroyed after a storm off the Maltese coast.
Separately, Germany announced on Wednesday it was going to stop training Libya’s coast guard due to concerns about its treatment of migrants. Humanitarian groups have long complained that the migrants who have returned to Libya are being sent to detention centers, where they are facing extortion, torture and trafficking.
The pope called the Libyan detention centers “lower”, with the German word for concentration camps, and called on the EU to reach an agreement on migrants arriving at its southern borders across the Mediterranean.
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