Migrants rejected by Italy find haven in Spain
Rescued migrants turned away by Italy and Malta arrived at the Spanish port of Valencia yesterday, ending a gruelling Mediterranean odyssey that became symbolic of Europe's failure to agree on immigration.
Spain jumped in to help 629 mainly sub-Saharan Africans on board the ship Aquarius last week after Italy's new government, asserting its anti-immigrant credentials, refused to let it dock. Spain's prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, who took office two weeks ago, took the opportunity to show a more liberal stance.
But the plight of the Aquarius, run by Doctors Without Borders and Franco-German charity SOS Méditerranée, highlighted the EU's struggle to manage an influx of people fleeing poverty and conflict.
Men, women and children who spent nine days on the Aquarius, after their rescue off the Libyan coast, cheered as they approached Valencia, where they were met by officials in white protective suits and masks, before police processed their information.
The whole group arrived on three separate boats, after some were transferred to two Italian vessels to make the journey safer.
A staff of 2,320, including volunteers, translators and health officials, were waiting on shore. Elhadj As Sy, the secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies General, was also in Valencia.
"This sad odyssey of the people on the Aquarius is another reminder that all people, regardless of their nationality or immigration status, should have access to basic assistance and protection," Mr Sy said in a statement.
"No human being is 'illegal'," added Mr Sy.
Italy's rejection of the Aquarius prompted a spat with France, while the issue of immigration has triggered a political row in Germany.
Malta refused to take the boat, saying it had nothing to do with the rescue, which was co-ordinated by Italy's coast guard.
The total of 629 migrants included seven pregnant women and 123 children.