Netherlands ready to take in refugees from NGO ship off Malta

Dutch government offers to take some of the 32 refugees on Sea-Watch 3, as Malta offers two ships shelter from storm.

    The Netherlands has announced it is prepared to welcome some of the 32 refugees and migrants waiting to disembark from a Dutch-flagged vessel in the Mediterranean if other countries did the same.

    "The Netherlands has indicated a readiness to possibly take in a proportional number of migrants who are on board Sea-Watch 3, on condition that other European countries do the same," said Lennart Wegewijs, the security and justice ministry spokesman, on Wednesday.

    The Dutch had at first joined Italy, Malta and Spain in refusing to accept the refugees and migrants who were rescued on December 22 by Sea-Watch 3, which is operated by a German charity and have been stranded off Malta.


    Also on Wednesday, Malta's navy announced that it will allow two German NGO ships with refugees on board, including the Sea-Watch 3, to "take shelter" in Maltese waters due to the deteriorating conditions on board.

    The 32 refugees on the Sea-Watch 3 who were plucked from a makeshift boat in international waters include three young children, three unaccompanied adolescents and four women from Nigeria, Libya and Ivory Coast.

    The Sea-Eye, the second ship, has also been stranded in the Mediterranean with 17 refugees on board.

    A German government spokesman said on Saturday that Germany would only accept some of the refugees if other European countries also agreed to do so.

    Storm warning

    The Sea-Watch NGO tweeted on Wednesday that a storm at sea is now returning, and the ship's passengers and crew need a safe harbour. 

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    The storm has forced the ship's crew to pack the migrants and refugees together in a small area below the deck.

    Separately, Spanish coastguards reported on Wednesday they had rescued 401 refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean over the first two days of the New Year.

    The news comes just days after a charity rescue vessel carrying 311 mainly African refugees plucked off the coast of Libya docked in Spain, ending a traumatic journey which saw them spend Christmas at sea.

    With Italian ports closed to refugees by the government in Rome since June, Spain has become a leading destination.

    More than 1,300 refugees and migrants died trying to reach Italy or Malta via the central Mediterranean last year, according to the International Organization for Migration.

    SOURCE: News agencies