Spain takes in 629 migrants stuck in the Mediterranean

by Garry Watts June 12, 2018, 1:32
Spain takes in 629 migrants stuck in the Mediterranean

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez gave instructions on Monday for Spain to offer a "safe port" to the vessel Aquarius, which is now at sea with more than 600 migrants and refugees on board.

One Aquarius crew member, Alessandro Porro, told Italian news channel Sky TG24 that they desperately needed to know which port to go to.

"Our sole objective is to bring the people we've rescued, in hard conditions yesterday, to a port of safety, ' the group said in a statement".

"My aim is to guarantee a peaceful life for these youths in Africa and for our children in Italy", Mr Salvini said, using a Twitter hashtag which translates to, "We are shutting the ports".

SOS Méditerranée spokesperson Mathilde Auvillain said the boat had received orders to head north after a series of sea rescues and was now was awaiting "definitive instructions".

The aid group SOS Mediterranee's ship plucked 229 migrants from the sea or from flimsy dinghies in the Mediterranean on Saturday.

The standoff is actually the third migrant dispute in recent weeks, after Italy's outgoing government refused to let humanitarian aid groups dock in Italian ports until the ships' flag nations had formally requested permission.

The standoff marked the first inevitable clash over migrant rescues with League leader Salvini, now running Italy's interior ministry.

"From now also Italy begins to say NO to the traffic of human beings, NO to the business of illegal immigration".

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Both the mayors of Valencia and Barcelona offered to take the boat in at their ports.

He said Malta should accept the Aquarius, but the government in Valletta said those rescued fall under Italy's jurisdiction as they were picked up the migrants in Libyan waters. "We're closing the ports".

Salvini took to social media within minutes to celebrate the news.

The Maltese prime minister also expressed concern over the Italian authorities' directions given to the Acquarius vessel, adding that such policies contradicted global norms, and might lead to unsafe developments.

On Sunday, Italy had refused to allow the vessel to dock in its ports, demanding that Malta should take it in.

As the rhetoric intensified, the Aquarius remained on standby in the Mediterranean Sea with its 629 passengers, including 123 unaccompanied minors. Political analysts said the rise of the populist movement in Italy was partly fuelled by the surge of migrant arrivals in Italy and their lack of resettlement elsewhere in the EU. Crisis appeared to have been averted this afternoon after Spain's new president Pedro Sanches offered to take the ship to Valencia, citing his country's humanitarian obligations.

"By closing their ports, Italy and Malta have not only turned their backs on more than 600 desperate and vulnerable people but also on their obligations under global law", Elisa De Pieri, Amnesty International's Italy researcher, said in a statement.

Salvini has accused migrants of rape, drug-dealing and spreading diseases, and has promised to send 500,000 back to their home countries.

Italy's southern Adriatic coast has been included, but vessels' typical operational area will be reduced from 30 nautical miles (55.6 kilometres) from the Italian coast to 24 miles (44.5 kilometres).

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