Refugee Crisis: Spain offers ship bearth as Italy, Malta refuse

Geraldine Edwards
June 12, 2018

Italy, which has a new, anti-immigration government, suggested that Malta take in the migrants.

There is predictable outrage at the decision by Italy's new populist interior minister Matteo Salvini to shut the ports to NGO ships carrying migrants from North Africa, but truthfully no-one in Brussels, Berlin or Paris should be surprised it has come to this.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez "has given instructions for Spain to comply with its worldwide commitments in matters of humanitarian crises" according to a Moncloa statement.

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

The MV Aquarius rescue ship is seen as migrants on are rescued by the SOS Mediterranee organisation during a search and rescue (SAR) operation in the Mediterranean Sea, off the Libyan Coast, September 14, 2017. Among those on board are 400 migrants rescued by the Italian navy and merchant vessels before being transferred to the Aquarius.

It is also unclear whether the ship has enough fuel and supplies for the roughly 800-mile journey to Valencia. Medical workers say food onboard the ship is going to run out Monday night.

The Aquarius ship picked up the migrants, including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children and seven pregnant women, from inflatable boats off the coast of Libya at the weekend.

"I wish I had tens of slaps like these", Salvini said.

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"Our objective is the disembarkation in a port of safety of the 629 people now on board the Aquarius - some we rescued yesterday night in hard conditions", she was quoted by Reuters as saying.

"The people we saved yesterday were in a hard condition, at least 50 were at risk of drowning".

The Aquarius spent the day on the water.

Anxiety is growing among the passengers, who are asking when they will be able to reach shore, according to SOS. "It's unbearably hot where they are", Borges tweeted. A few of the migrants were said to be injured or ill from beatings or torture, including chemical burns, they sustained from human smugglers in Libya.

Women and children sleep below deck, watched over by a midwife, while the men sleep on the open deck, covered only with tarpaulin. Salvini's move was applauded by his supporters, who cheered the new government's stance to strengthen the patrolling of its borders. By Monday, the ship still did not know where to disembark the 629 people they had rescued. The Aquarius flies the flag of Gibraltar. But it wasn't certain if the voyage was feasible given the distance and how long the rescue vessel had been at sea.

But the Spanish ports may be too far away for the overburdened Aquarius.

The Aquarius, a rescue vessel run by Medecins Sans Frontieres, is now stranded in global waters after Italy closed its ports.

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

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Malta, for its part, has consistently refused to take in migrants, citing its small size and limited capacities.

In a statement, UNHCR "appealed to concerned governments to allow the immediate disembarkation of hundreds of people stranded in the Mediterranean since Saturday".

"People are in distress, are running out of provisions and need help quickly".

My office stands ready, as always to work with countries of Europe and the Mediterranean to ensure that saving lives and maintaining asylum remains our shared priority. "Above all else we have to save human lives", said Colau, when asked about the crisis during a breakfast meeting. Stanishev said Italy was refusing to fulfill its own obligations under worldwide law.

Late Monday afternoon, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte called a cabinet meeting this evening to discuss the issue.

Under EU rules migrants must apply for asylum in the European country where they first arrive.

For years the European Union has largely ignored Italy's rising fury at being left to deal with the migration crisis (even when it came from more politically acceptable figures like Matteo Renzi) but with Mr Salvini in charge, that may no longer be possible. The arrivals, however, fell sharply a year ago.

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