Brussels seeks EU members to take stranded migrants on two rescue ships

UN calls on Europe to help people, France says it works to solve the crisis

France has initiated discreet talks with the European Commission to find a solution for the rescue ship Open Arms, El Pais reported on Wednesday. The Interior ministry in Paris confirmed contact with Brussels to find safe port for Spanish ship with 151 aboard that has spent 13 days out at sea after being denied entry by nearby countries Italy and Malta. European Commission sources admitted on Tuesday that it is in touch with several member states in a bid to end the crisis.

On 7 August the Catalan-based aid organization Proactiva Open Arms sent a letter to France’s President Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Spain’s PM Pedro Sanchez asking them for help. The letter urged these European leaders to activate a procedure known as a “formal coordination petition” in Brussels in order to distribute the migrants across the EU territory, a move that might convince Italy and Malta to allow port entry to the rescue ship, which is located 30 nautical miles away from the Italian island of Lampedusa. Since June of last year, authorities in Malta and Italy have been refusing port entry to rescue vessels operated by non-profit groups, unless a previous agreement exists to relocate the migrants in other countries.

The Spanish executive says that taking in the migrants that Italy rejects would be tantamount to accepting the logic of the Italian interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who has closed off its ports to non-profit rescue ships.

Open Arms is the second rescue ship in the area awaiting permission for port entry. The Ocean Viking, operated by Doctors Without Borders and SOS Mediterranee, also requested port. The Norwegian-flagged vessel is carrying 356 people on board, including 74 minors.

Meanwhile the United Nations refugee agency urgently appealed to European governments on Tuesday to let two migrant rescue ships disembark.

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