Rescuers pick up hundreds of migrants across Mediterranean ahead of EU talks

Refugees-in-greece

Spanish coast guards rescued nearly 600 migrants trying to make the perilous crossing from Africa, authorities said on Saturday, while off the coast of Libya coastguards recovered bodies of five migrants and picked up 185 survivors.

Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, Malta’s army made a medical evacuation from a stranded rescue ship that Italy and Malta have refused to take in, while the container ship Alexander Maersk picked up 113 migrants from a boat off southern Italy on Friday, the ship owner said.

The rescues come ahead of a hastily-arranged EU summit in Brussels on Sunday to discuss disputes over migration.

The Maltese government said its army was answering a request to offer medical assistance to a person onboard the MV Lifeline boat and would also provide humanitarian supplies.

On Friday evening and Saturday morning Spanish rescuers picked up 449 people from 20 dinghies in the Mediterranean, as well as 129 people from a wooden raft headed from West Africa to the Canary Islands, the maritime rescue service said on Twitter.

Earlier this month Spain offered safe haven to the charity ship Aquarius that was blocked from docking in Italy or Malta as Rome’s new government tries to pressure European partners to shoulder more of the burden of immigration from North Africa.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Thursday a draft EU accord on migration had been withdrawn after he clashed with Chancellor Angela Merkel over an issue that is splitting Europe.

Italy on Friday slammed Malta’s refusal to take in the Dutch-flagged MV Lifeline as “inhumane”, but Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on Saturday retorted his country would not be told what to do.

EU leaders hold an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss migration, with Merkel at odds with a coalition partner over its demands to turn back migrants at the border.

However, several central European countries have said they will boycott the Brussels meeting and Merkel on Friday played down expectations of any major breakthrough.

Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache said on Saturday he expects a chain reaction across the European Union if Germany closes its borders to refugees.

The German NGO Mission Lifeline that operates the MV Lifeline ship called for a swift resolution at the EU summit.

“Europe owes a solution to 234 rescued people on the Lifeline and 113 people on the merchant vessel Alexander Maersk. Both have no port of safety assigned as of yet and remain adrift in international waters,” it said in a statement.