Spain hailed for ending migrant ship stand-off

Geraldine Edwards
June 15, 2018

Even as Italy worked to dispatch the charity ship, an Italian Coast Guard vessel with 937 migrants aboard was heading north from the Libyan coast and was expected to dock in Sicily on Wednesday.

The small island nation with fewer than a half million inhabitants says it already accepts more refugees per capita than Italy, which has taken in more than 600,000 boat migrants since 2014.

Aquarius is operated jointly by French NGOs Medecine Sans Frontiers (MSF) and SOS Medeterranee Salvini said "Saving lives is a duty, turning Italy into a huge refugee camp is not". "Italy has stopped bowing our heads and obeying", Salvini said in a Facebook post. "This time we say no".

Spanish socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez offered to allow the Aquarius to dock in Valencia, insisting it was an "obligation" to do so.

Both Italy and Malta had come under increasing global pressure to allow the migrant rescue ship to dock, and they continued to argue over who was responsible.

Malta and Italy thanked Spain for stepping up, but maintained their dispute over who was responsible.

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"Italy can not accept hypocritical lessons from countries that have always preferred to turn their backs when it comes to immigration", Conte said in a statement.

A bitter row broke out between Italy and Malta at the weekend over which country should take in the Aquarius rescue boat, which picked up the migrants on Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday, Italy refused the Aquarius permission to enter a port of refuge to offload the migrants.

But Italy retorted that it refused to accept "hypocrital lessons" from France, according to a government statement quoted by the media. "Malta will be sending fresh supplies to the vessel".

He added: "It will be necessary to sit down and discuss how to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the future. This is a European issue".

Cochetel said that "broader issues, such as who has responsibility and how these responsibilities can best be shared between states, should be looked at later".

"From the empirical evidence, the boats had been arriving whether there were or were not rescue operations in the Mediterranean or in Eastern Mediterranean or Central Mediterranean", Mahecic said.

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They had hoped to find refuge in Italy.

"Naples is ready, without funds, to save lives", he said. Earlier in the day, the European Commission had urged action.

"After the refusal of Malta to allow the people aboard the Aquarius to disembark there, we received an unprecedented gesture of solidarity from Spain".

"Turning this into a political weapon is is clear that Europe must act more wisely, but we can not let these people die at sea".

"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. "They manifestly go against worldwide rules, and risk creating a unsafe situation for all those involved", Muscat said.

Among those on board are 400 migrants rescued by the Italian navy and merchant vessels before being transferred to the Aquarius.

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