Sunday, 26 May, 2019

Spain takes in 629 migrants stuck in the Mediterranean

Italy’s vow to deny refugee boat with more than 600 on board echoes Australia Migrants remain at sea as Italy-Malta standoff intensifies
Deanna Wagner | 14 June, 2018, 16:04

SOS Mediterranee tweeted late Sunday that the Aquarius had received instructions from the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre to stand by in its current position 35 nautical miles from Italy and 27 nautical miles from Malta.

It was "essential that the European Union does not look the other way and on the question of migration it is turning away on many occasions", she said.

To resolve the problem, two Italian boats moved alongside the Aquarius on Tuesday to share out the migrants before heading west through what are forecast to be stormy seas.

"At this time the Aquarius, the biggest rescue boat in the Mediterranean, is going far from its rescue zone", she told AFP.

Days after assuming office, Mr Salvini issued a warning to people smugglers in a statement that drew direct comparisons with former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott's "stop the boats" rhetoric.

"Malta takes in nobody".

In Spain, Mr Sanchez ordered authorities in Valencia to open the port, saying "it's our duty to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a secure port for these people".

The 629 migrants - including 123 unaccompanied minors and several pregnant women - were onboard the Aquarius, operated by the charity SOS Mediterranee.

Hours later Spain's newly-appointed Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez unlocked the situation.

Italy's spat with Malta began after its reported refusal to come to the aid of another rescue ship See Fuchs, which was stranded with 126 migrants on board due to violent seas until it was allowed to dock in the Sicilian port of Pozzallo on Saturday. Although there were no immediate emergencies on board, the spokesman said, there were many who needed medical care for chemical burns, hypothermia and dehydration.

A US Navy ship rescued 40 migrants off the coast of Libya Tuesday, according to US military officials.

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Matteo Salvini, Italy's new interior minister, prevented the passengers from disembarking in his country on Sunday.

Doctors Without Borders, which has staff aboard the Aquarius, said the rescued migrants are stable for now but that food and water on the ship would run out by Monday night. The agency is demanding that some country - any country - let the ship dock.

Italy has refused to grant access to another migrant rescue ship right after denying entry to nearly 630 migrants on board the rescue vessel Acquarius, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said.

Cochetel noted Monday that those on board are running out of provisions and insisted that issues of responsibility "should be looked at later". "Given the boat's location, it is between Italy and Malta".

Sea-Watch said police also questioned some of the rescued migrants who, after being processed by the authorities, are likely to end up in reception centers.

The migrants were rescued in six separate night-time operations in the central Mediterranean on Saturday.

The Aquarius rescue vessel was however caught in a dramatic standoff over the weekend that saw Italy and Malta refuse to allow it to dock.

The Aquarius ship at sea. Although the influx has been subsiding, the country continues struggling to cope with the arrivals.

Humanitarian groups said the decision is putting politics before people's safety, forcing them to endure further hardship after an already harrowing journey from north Africa.

The legal situation regarding who should take responsibility was, however, "not at all clear", said Natasha Bertaud, a European Commission spokeswoman for migration.

Italy and Malta showed no sign of backing down despite the United Nations call to immediately allow the boat to dock, describing the situation as "an urgent humanitarian imperative".