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The Latest: Aid group: Rescuing migrants was only option

The Latest: Aid group: Rescuing migrants was only option
The Associated Press

VALLETTA, Malta (AP) — The Latest on the influx of migrants in Europe (all times local):

3 p.m.

A German humanitarian group that’s been heavily criticized by European governments for rescuing migrants off the coast of Libya says it had no other choice.

A representative of Mission Lifeline said Thursday the group’s ship received a distress call in the night of June 20-21 and found an inflatable boat full of people 19 nautical miles off Libya’s coast.

Marie Naass told reporters in Berlin that the captain was told by the marine coordination center in Rome to leave the rescue to Libya’s coast guard, but they never showed up.

Naass said the captain determined the migrants were in “acute danger” and picked them up. A second ship, 22 nautical miles off Libya’s coast, was also rescued.

She added that it was “a question of minutes, you have to decide quickly.”

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2:30 p.m.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is insisting that European Union countries where migrants arrive deserve assistance, but has rejected the idea that refugees can choose which country to seek asylum in.

Merkel arrived Thursday at an EU summit, seeking progress on a long-elusive European approach to dealing with asylum-seekers amid heavy pressure from her interior minister, who is threatening turn migrants back from Germany’s borders unilaterally.

Merkel said that “the states that get a lot of refugees of course need protection and support, but on the other hand refugees and migrants cannot choose in which country they go through asylum proceedings.”

She said that protecting the EU’s external borders will be a key issue at the summit, and there could be discussions with North African countries about ships docking there.

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12:20 p.m.

The number of countries saying they will accept refugees rescued at sea by the German-run charity ship Lifeline has risen to nine.

Malta Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said on Twitter Thursday that Norway has joined eight other countries that pledged a day earlier to take some of the 234 migrants who are deemed to be eligible for asylum. Those deemed economic refugees will be returned to their countries of origin.

The other eight countries are France, Portugal, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, Belgium Ireland and Malta itself.

Malta allowed Lifeline to dock Wednesday after the ship was stuck for days at sea in Europe’s latest political impasse over how to cope with asylum-seekers and refugees.

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12:10 p.m.

A German humanitarian group has defended the captain and crew of its migrant rescue ship Lifeline, saying they “strictly abided by international law” at all times.

Malta is investigating whether Captain Claus-Peter Reisch broke the law and ignored instructions to take 234 migrants rescued off the Libyan coast to Libya — a charge echoed by France and Italy.

The Mission Lifeline group will hold a news conference Thursday, a day after the ship was allowed to dock in Malta.

On Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared to weigh into the debate, telling parliament that “there’s an obligation to let the Libyan coast guard to do their work.”

Aid groups and legal experts have questioned whether war-torn Libya is in a position to conduct proper search and rescue operations around its coastline.

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11:40 a.m.

Screening has begun for migrants who arrived in Malta after nearly a week at sea on a humanitarian rescue vessel, to determine whether they are eligible for asylum and relocation to one of eight European Union nations.

The screening process for the 234 migrants, including five children, began Thursday, the morning after they docked in the Maltese capital Valletta. The government said three babies and three adults were being treated at the national government hospital.

Malta Prime Minister Joseph Muscat opened the country’s main port to the German-run ship Lifeline after other EU nations agreed to accept some of the refugees. He said those deemed economic migrants will be sent back to their countries of origin.

Maltese officials seized the ship, citing irregularities in the rescue, and put the captain under investigation.

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9:20 a.m.

A Spanish rescue ship has set sail for international waters, carrying four European parliamentarians as EU nations bicker over managing migrant flows across the Mediterranean Sea.

The Astral departed Malta early Thursday to join the Open Arms rescue ship already in the search and rescue zone off the coast of Libya. Both are operated by the Spain-based NGO Proactiva Open Arms.

Three Spanish and one Italian lawmaker joined the mission as observers and plan to share their accounts at the next European plenary session July 2-5 in Strasbourg.

Astral’s captain Riccardo Gatti says he is not sure the boat will be allowed back into Maltese port. Several charity-run rescue ships have been denied port in Italy and Malta in recent weeks.

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