Spain offers to take in Aquarius ship carrying over 600 refugees

12 June 2018, 01:34 | Isaac Mcdaniel

Italy turns away ship carrying over 600 migrants

Italy shuts ports to rescue ship carrying 629 migrants

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez gave instructions on Monday for Spain to offer a "safe port" to the vessel Aquarius, which is now at sea with more than 600 migrants and refugees on board.

"I don't think the Italian government can deny a port of safety to the Italian Coast Guard, but they can to a foreign-flagged ship like the Aquarius", he told CNN Monday.

"My aim is to guarantee a peaceful life for these youths in Africa and for our children in Italy", he said, using the Twitter hashtag "We are shutting the ports".

More than 600,000 migrants have reached Italy by boat from Africa in the past five years.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who took office just over a week ago, has given instructions for the boat to be admitted to the eastern port of Valencia after Italy and Malta refused to let it dock.

"International maritime law does not provide for specific obligations which would determine in all cases which state is responsible to allow disembarkation on its territory", the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says.

The standoff marked the first inevitable clash over migrant policy with League leader Salvini, who is now running Italy's Interior Ministry. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini tweeted Sunday that from now on, "Italy, too, begins to say NO to the trafficking of human beings".

Not everyone in Italy agreed with Salvini's hard line; the mayors of a number of southern cities, including Naples, Palermo and Messina, said they would welcome the migrants. "We're closing the ports". Salvini had earlier issued a joint statement with Italian Transportation Minister Danilo Toninelli of the 5-Star Movement, saying Malta "cannot continue to look the other way when it comes to respecting precise worldwide conventions on the protection of human life".

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At the same time, the new Italian government saw revolt among their own ranks as several mayors from the parties now out of power criticized them for the decision.

A doctor on the ship, Dr. David Beversluis, said there were no medical emergencies onboard but one passenger had to be revived after he was rescued.

On June 3, Salvini went to Pozzallo, a Sicilian port where many rescued migrants and refugees disembark, to thunder that the "good times are over" for undocumented migrants and to insinuate that nongovernmental organizations saving lives in the central Mediterranean are complicit with smugglers.

This is something of a PR disaster for the new government, particularly since the shipload of refugees includes seven pregnant women and dozens of unaccompanied minors.

Italy has called on Mediterranean neighbour, the island of Malta, to open its doors to the vessel.

Italy has had to accept some 700,000 migrants since 2013, in line with the controversial Dublin Regulation requiring to declare refugee status in their first country of arrival.

Police questioned the boat's captain for more than four hours, according to Sea-Watch - the NGO that operates the vessel - and journalists aboard were asked to hand over video footage of the June 5 rescue operation. Salvini campaigned on an anti-immigrant platform that included a vow to expel hundreds of thousands of migrants already in Italy, even though experts doubt such mass deportations are feasible or financially viable.



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