Spanish PM lets migrant boat dock at Valencia

Tuesday, 12 Jun, 2018

Having come under fire for banning the migrant rescue ship "Aquarius" with 629 people on board from docking at its ports, Italy's new government says it's been left alone by the European Union to deal with the uncontrolled influx of refugees.

The migrant rescue charity SOS Méditerranée, which runs the Aquarius, said 629 migrants had been picked up in six different rescue operations off Libya's coast on Sunday.

After Sanchez's move, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte thanked Spain - as did Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat while also blaming Italy for the ship's prolonged journey.

The 629 rescued migrants on board the ship Aquarius, operated by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without borders, come from Eritrea, Ghana, Nigeria and Sudan, and include 88 women - seven of which are pregnant - 123 unaccompanied minors and 11 children.

Salvini, who also serves as Italy's interior minister, has promised to change immigration policies in Italy, saying the new Italian government's efforts will be aimed at guaranteeing peaceful lives for Africans in Africa and for Italians in their own country.

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

Italy argued that Malta should accept the Aquarius because Malta was the safest, closest port to the ship.

The migrant influx has led to a populist backlash, with Salvini vowing to prevent Italy from becoming the "refugee camp of Europe".

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

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"The boat is now heading north towards a secure port", SOS Mediterranee tweeted without specifying its destination, though virtually every such migrant boat over the past five years ended up in Italy.

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.

Italy's new rightwing government has closed its ports to the migrants rescued by a German vessel in Libyan waters.

"Malta is not acting, France rejects them, and Europe doesn't care", Salvini wrote.

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

But the Spanish ports may be too far away for the overburdened Aquarius. In 2013-2014, the operation Mare Nostrum was an Italian military rescue operation that saved around 150,000 migrants from drowning and cost about 10 million euros per month.

The mayors of both Valencia and Barcelona had already offered to let the boat in at their ports. On Sunday evening, he posted an image of himself on Twitter with his arms crossed above the message, "We are closing the ports", rendered as an Italian hashtag.

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.

Italy's new government assumes power at a time when nativist populist parties have growing clout in Europe and its anti-immigrant stance will no doubt be welcomed by Hungary's Viktor Orban, whose government is now trying to criminalize people working for groups that assist asylum seekers. Malta said Italy co-ordinated the rescues and that the tiny island nation - which in the last few years has only accepted a few hundred migrants - has had nothing to do with it.