Spains says France to take in Aquarius ship migrants

Frederick Owens
June 19, 2018

The Aquarius berthed in Valencia several hours later with 106 people on board, and another Italian ship, the Orione, is due to arrive later Sunday.

The ship has been accompanied by two Italian vessels.

VALENCIA, Spain, June 17 (Reuters) - The first boat in a naval convoy carrying a total of 629 rescued migrants arrived in the Spanish port of Valencia on Sunday, ending a gruelling nine-day sea voyage, but leaving wide open a fierce debate in Europe about how to handle immigration. Malta also refused and Spain stepped in and offered to grant them entry some 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) away.

The migrants were met by emergency workers, health officials, Red Cross volunteers and psychologists at the city's marina.

More than 1.8 million migrants have arrived in Europe since 2014, and Italy is now sheltering more than 170,000 asylum seekers, as well as an estimated 500,000 unregistered migrants.

Italy on Saturday demanded that the Netherlands recall two Dutch-flagged migrant rescue ships after one of the non-government organisations that operate them called the interior minister a fascist.

It was a week since Italy and Malta had turned away the occupants of the rescue ship, that contained 400 people picked up by the Italian navy and transferred via coast guard boats and private cargo ships to Aquarius.

Macron said the policy and others have left Italy, usually the first European country reached on the busy migration route across the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa, without the support that is supposed to be a benefit of a united Europe. The first migrantwas a 29-year-old man from South Sudan.

Anti-migrant feeling has surged in Italy, where more than 600,000 people have arrived by sea over the past five years, helping to propel the nationalist League into a coalition government.

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The European Commission, the EU's executive arm in Brussels, limited itself to appeals for solidarity among the 28 member states and for humanity toward migrants adrift at sea.

France was particularly critical, with President Emmanuel Macron accusing the Italians of "cynicism and irresponsibility", prompting Salvini to respond that "saving lives is a duty, turning Italy into a huge refugee camp is not" and suggesting France could take the Aquarius passengers.

Jose Luis Abalos says "Spain will act with sensitivity and at the same time within the law, and with a message to Europe that it doesn't have an immigration policy up to the challenge at hand".

"They should know that Italy no longer wants to be an accomplice in the business of illegal immigration and therefore they will have to aim for other non-Italian ports".

In addition, a new populist government in Italy - one whose interior minister has vowed to deport tens of thousands of migrants as soon as he can - will make any compromises on European Union migration policy even more hard.

The coast guard said on Twitter it had rescued 507 people from 59 small dinghies in the Gibraltar strait, where it also found the four bodies.

Many of those undertaking the journey are fleeing from conflict or poverty at home.

The Aquarius case is important because it shows "that the European Union can not avert its gaze", Spain's Defense Minister Margarita Robles said in an interview with El Mundo newspaper on Sunday.

Other reports by LeisureTravelAid

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