Migrant ship Aquarius to dock in Spain

15 June, 2018, 01:03 | Author: Gregory Stephens
  • Migrants remain at sea as Italy-Malta standoff intensifies

Spain has accepted a rescue ship carrying 629 migrants which had been turned away by the new Italian government, avoiding a humanitarian crisis and diffusing a political stand-off between two European Union countries.

The French organization SOS Mediterranee said the ship was carrying 629 migrants picked up in the Mediterranean on Saturday, including 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women.

The appeal by the non-governmental organisation follows that of the United Nations refugee agency in Italy that urged the countries involved to "rapidly find solutions to allow migrants and refugees on board the Aquarius to disembark safely and quickly".

The boat rescued the migrants in six different operations off Libyan shores on Saturday morning.

In Spain, Mr Sanchez ordered authorities in Valencia to open the port, saying "it's our duty to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a secure port for these people".

The Council of Europe welcomed Spain's move, with the organization's Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, tweeting: "Saving lives at sea is an obligation that states must always uphold".

On Sunday, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat accused Italy of "violating worldwide law" for implementing a similar policy.

'A European issue' Malta and Italy both thanked Spain for stepping up, but maintained their dispute over who was responsible.


Problems for the vessel began when Italy's Matteo Salvini, recently appointed as interior minister as part of a new right-wing government, closed the country's ports to the boat, after promising voters he would crack down on immigration.

Mayor Filippo Nogarin - a member of the Five Star Movement (M5S), the anti-establishment party now governing Italy in coalition with the nationalist League - had said that he was ready to "open the port of Livorno and take in the ship Aquarius with its cargo of 629 human lives".

The Aquarius said it had received no instructions yet to head to Spain. Salvini had earlier issued a joint statement with Italian Transportation Minister Danilo Toninelli of the 5-Star Movement, saying Malta "cannot continue to look the other way when it comes to respecting precise global conventions on the protection of human life". "Italy is done bending over backwards and obeying, this time THERE IS SOMEONE WHO SAYS NO".

The migrant influx has led to a populist backlash, with Salvini vowing to prevent Italy from becoming the "refugee camp of Europe".

"(We) call for people's safety to come before politics". "We need to show solidarity which Italy has not shown".

However, MSF said this would mean "already exhausted people rescued at sea would have to endure four more days exposed to the elements on the deck, in an overcrowded boat already well over maximum capacity and in deteriorating weather conditions".

That has put pressure on Italy and Greece, the entry points for hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Africa and Asia since 2015.

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