Aquarius migrant rescue ship arrives in Spain

Clay Curtis
June 17, 2018

Migrants are seen after being rescued by MV Aquarius, a search and rescue ship run in partnership between SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres in the central Mediterranean Sea, June 12, 2018.

France has offered to take in any passengers who qualify for asylum and want to go there.

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

More than 120 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women are among those who have spent days crossing the western Mediterranean, according to officials in Valencia. "We hand over migrants to Europe because of the Geneva convention", he said.

It will be followed by the Aquarius and another Italian navy ship, the Orione.

That ship, the Aquarius, and two accompanying Italian ships are now expected to dock Sunday morning in Spain, the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Doctors Without Borders told CNN.

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Crews of the NGO boats say Salvini's port closures leaves them without anywhere close by to take the people they rescue, and that the move will prove counterproductive.

"It is our duty to help avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a safe port to these people, to comply with our human rights obligations", Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said earlier this week.

The worldwide aid group Doctors Without Borders, which operates the Aquarius along with the SOS Mediterranee, said earlier in the week the migrants were "exhausted and stressed", and it warned of severe health risks to some passengers, including pregnant women and a group of passengers who suffered burns. "They will come anyway, but more of them will die".

Charities say the NGO boats are a vital lifeline, rescuing more than 88,000 people in the past two years, but critics say they are a pull factor, encouraging people to make the unsafe sea journey. At least 13,000 people have drowned trying to reach European shores.

Earlier this week, Rome was outraged when a French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux, apparently quoting French President Emmanuel Macron, said Italy had acted with "a form of cynicism and a measure of irresponsibility" by turning the migrants away. Many protesters held up placards, with one calling on the government to "Open the ports and the wallets". "They are all passing the ball among themselves". NGOs, however, say its warships operate too far out to sea, given that people traffickers favour towing rubber boats full of migrants to the edge of Libya's 12-mile territorial waters before setting them adrift.

Almost 800 people have died this year while trying to cross the Mediterranean, according to the International Organization for Migration. The decrease is in part the result of the European Union and Italy training and funding Libya's coastguard to intercept vessels.

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