Pope urges EU to help 49 stranded migrants

Pope Francis yesterday urged European leaders to stop bickering over the fate of 49 migrants stuck aboard two humanitarian rescue ships on the Mediterranean and let them land at a safe port of call.

Addressing 60,000 people in St Peter’s Square for the Feast of the Epiphany, the pontiff jumped into a diplomatic fracas between Italy and Malta and into an internal dispute among leaders of Italy’s populist government.

“I make a heartfelt appeal to European leaders to show concrete solidarity for these people,” Pope Francis said, raising his voice. They were only “seeking a safe port where they can disembark”.

Thirty-two people are aboard the Sea-Watch 3, a vessel run by a German humanitarian group, which plucked them from an unsafe boat off Libya on December 22. They include three small children and four teenagers. Another ship run by the German group Sea-Eye is carrying 17 people rescued on December 29.

Last week, nearly two dozen humanitarian groups, including Amnesty International and the United Nations’ International Organisation for Migration, called on the EU to offer a safe port to both vessels.

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat yesterday defended his country’s refusal to take the vessels, saying it had no legal responsibility for the rescue.

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