Spain offers to take in Aquarius ship carrying over 600 refugees

Pauline Gross
June 11, 2018

Italy and Malta dug in for a second day Monday and refused to let a rescue ship with 629 people aboard dock in their ports, leaving the migrants at sea as a diplomatic standoff escalated under Italy's new anti-immigrant government.

The 629 people on board include 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children and seven pregnant women.

Italy's new interior minister, Matteo Salvini announced on Sunday that all Italian ports were closed to the rescue boat, called Aquarius.

Italy has long demanded that the European Union change its migration policy and make good on promises to accept more refugees, saying that Italy has been left alone to coordinate rescues and accept tens of thousands of migrants a year for asylum processing. Spanish newly sworn-in Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said he instructed the ship to be admitted to the eastern port of Valencia. The mayor of Taranto, Rinaldo Melucci said the southern port city was "ready to embrace every life in danger". "Malta takes in nobody", he said.

Salvini's critics, however, weren't as keen as they accused the new Interior Minister of lack of empathy and "racism" in a volley of comments.

Aid group SOS Mediterraneee said the passengers on its ship, the Aquarius, included 400 people who were picked up by the Italian navy, that country's coast guard and private cargo ships and transferred.

Naples mayor Luigi de Magistris said on Twitter that "if a minister without a heart leaves pregnant women, children, old people, human beings to die, the port of Naples is ready to welcome them".

Doctors Without Borders, which has staff aboard the Aquarius, said the rescued migrants were stable for now but that food and water on the ship would run out by Monday night.

SOS Mediterranee said late Sunday that it had received instructions from Italian authorities to hold position between Malta and Italy after previously heading north.

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Malta said the rescue operations took place in global waters off Libya and were coordinated by Italy.

Valencia is nearly three days' voyage for the Aquarius, while Italy and Malta are just hours away.

"If anyone thinks I won't move a muscle while we have another summer of landings, landings and more landings, well that's not what I'm going to do", Salvini told reporters. Saving lives is a duty, transforming Italy in a refugee camp isn't.

Malta's prime minister Joseph Muscat said: "The Italian government is breaching global rules and, with its attitude, is risking to create a situation that would be unsafe to everyone".

"Malta is neither the competent nor the coordinating authority in this case".

"Nevertheless I am very anxious for the direction taken by Italian authorities". "Italy is done bowing its head and obeying".

More than 600 people are stuck aboard the ship Aquarius, run by a French charity, which is now waiting between Malta and Italy while the two countries row over who should take responsibility. "This time there's someone saying no".

"The Mediterranean is the sea of all the countries that face it, and it (Malta) can't imagine that Italy will continue to face this giant phenomenon (of migration) in solitude", the ministers said.

Italy has always been a destination for migrants crossing the Mediterranean and has been dealing with a surge in arrivals in recent years.

Other reports by GizPress

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