Pope enters migrant ships dispute with appeal for safe ports

Leroy Wright
January 8, 2019

In this photo taken with slow shutter speed Pope Francis leaves after celebrating an Epiphany Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019.

Addressing the crowds - Pope Francis said "49 people rescued in the Mediterranean Sea have been on board two NGO ships for many days, looking for a safe port in which to land".

"I address a pressing appeal to European leaders that they show some concrete solidarity with respect to these people", he added.

The Dutch-registered vessel Sea-Watch 3, operated by a German humanitarian group, picked up 32 of the migrants off Libya on 22 December while Sea-Eye - a second ship run by a different German charity - rescued another 17 people on 29 December.

He accused Malta's critics of playing "the Christmas saint" while themselves rejecting the ships.

Last week almost two dozen humanitarian groups, including Amnesty International, Save the Children and the United Nations' International Organization for Migration called on the European Union to offer a safe port to both vessels.

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"We need to find a balance between the human aspect and national security".

"We will not take in any migrant, not even women and children", he said on Rete 4's programme "Quarta Repubblica".

Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Di Maio meanwhile said Italy had been taking in migrants for years and the time had come for Malta to take in some ships. "Now, Malta has to do its part".

Malta has also refused migrants permission to leave their vessels but has allowed two boats to enter its waters for fresh supplies.

The country's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, of the right-wing League party, has demanded more help from other European Union countries to tackle the issue.

Salvini has often criticized Francis, who has made defense of migrants a key feature of his pontificate.

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