Spain saves 825 migrants, prepares to receive Aquarius boat

Erika Holt
June 20, 2018

The ship was held for two days between Malta and the Italian island of Sicily after Italy's new hard-line interior Minister Matteo Salvini refused to allow the ship to dock.

The Aquarius and the two Italian boats are carrying the 630 migrants rescued by the Aquarius while attempting the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea last week.

An aid group's ship and two Italian military vessels docked Sunday at the Spanish port of Valencia, ending a weeklong ordeal for hundreds of people who were rescued from the Mediterranean Sea only to become pawns in a European political fight.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen is criticizing the government's decision to identify refugees from the rescue ship Aquarius who might be eligible for asylum in France. The 1,500-kilometre (930-mile) journey across the Mediterranean from Sicily to Valencia took almost a week.

The migrants aboard the Aquarius spent 20 hours in overcrowded rubber dinghies before being rescued.

Spanish authorities say they will examine the migrants case-by-case to see who may qualify for asylum.

Upon arrival, the seven pregnant women on board the boats were immediately taken for check-ups, and everyone on board, including 123 minors, will receive psychological help, Spanish Red Cross officials said.

"Some people praised me by telling me that we shouldn't accept any [asylum seekers], but the only reason I refused them was because they weren't our responsibility according to global law, a point that the European Commission and all worldwide NGOs agreed with", he said.

The rest of the migrants are due to arrive on another Italian navy ship, the Orione, later today.

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Spain swooped to help 629 mainly sub-Saharan Africans on board the Aquarius last week after Italy's new government, asserting its anti-immigrant credentials, refused to let it dock.

Muscat articulated his frustration with Malta having been ordered by Italy to harbor the ship, deeming them as "unacceptable".

Hundreds of global journalists were accredited to cover Sunday's arrival of the migrants in Valencia.

Meanwhile the new prime minister in Spain, Pedro Sanchez, welcomed the migrants as he vowed to avoid a "humanitarian catastrophe".

TV images showed Spanish Red Cross officials attending to the migrants as they walked down the Dattilo's gangways and onto Spanish soil.

Elhadj As Sy, the secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, offered his thanks to Spain.

Axel Steier, the co-founder of Mission Lifeline which operates the Lifeline ship, said his crew had rescued more than 100 migrants off Libya on Friday in an operation with a United States warship, and transferred them to a Turkish merchant vessel.

The Aquarius case exposed divisions within the European Union on migration policies and revived calls for a reform of EU migration and asylum rules in view of an EU summit scheduled for late June.

"We know that Italy does not want to be complicit in the business of clandestine immigration, and they will have to look for other ports to go to", he said, without providing details about the Dutch-flagged ships. Through the first five months of 2018, a total of 35,455 migrants reached European shores, with 11,792 of them arriving in Spain.

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