Stranded migrants arrive in Malta after standoff

Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat addresses a press conference at his office in Valletta Malta

The announcement came on Wednesday afternoon from Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who for more than two weeks has been refusing to allow the 49 people rescued by the two NGO boats to disembark unless other European Union countries agreed to resettle them.

They have been unable to disembark because of a diplomatic deadlock among European Union member states, despite an appeal by Pope Francis on Sunday for European Union leaders to show solidarity.

Sea-Watch said that the migrants finally have a "safe haven" after three weeks at sea.

There were ecstatic cheers on board the Sea-Watch 3 when a crew member told them "we have a safe port, it's over", according to a video tweeted by the German NGO Sea Watch International.

Malta said another 78 migrants would be allowed to stay in Malta, and 44 Bangladeshi migrants would be sent back to their country.

"It is a testament to state failure; politics should never be played at the cost of people in need."

The migrants will go to eight countries including France, Germany, Portugal and the Netherlands.

The migrants will be transferred from the Sea-Watch 3 and Albrecht Penck ships to Maltese coastguard vessels "as soon as possible", Muscat said. "Every hour that passed without a solution was not an hour I was proud of", he said.

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The number of migrants reaching Spain by sea has surged amid Italy's refusal to let private rescue vessels into its ports.

"I reiterate, as I did before, that this case shall not act as a precedent - and I have reassurances that this will not be the case from European institutions".

"We welcome this show of solidarity and understanding that Malta is going beyond what is required of us", said Mr Muscat.

Both Italy and Malta have refused to let private rescue ships bring migrants to their shores.

Salvini told reporters during a visit to Poland Wednesday he "absolutely" opposes new migrant arrivals in Italy, clashing with his own premier on the issue.

Following the deal, Matteo Salvini, deputy prime minister and also leader of the far-right party the League, said Italy should not take any migrants from Malta.

"Giving in to the pressures and the threats of Europe and NGOs is a sign of weakness which the Italians do not deserve", he said in a statement.

Some 113,482 migrants crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe a year ago, according to the United Nations refugee agency, which said 2,262 people lost their lives or went missing making the perilous journey.

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