A humanitarian ship carrying an estimated 629 migrants rescued off the coast of Libya found a new home in Spain after it was denied entry to Italy. Pedro Sanchez, who was recently elected as Spain’s new Prime Minister, gave the rescue vessel named the MS Aquarius, permission to dock in a port located in the city of Valencia:
“The Prime Minister has given instructions so that Spain can fulfil its international humanitarian crisis commitments and has announced that the Aquarius will be welcomed into a Spanish port.
“It is our duty to help avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a safe harbour to these people in accordance with international law.”
The MS Aquarius was refused entry into Italy after its request for docking was blocked by Matteo Salvini who heads the far-right League party. Salvini instructed the MS Aquarius to dock at Malta instead. However, Malta likewise declined the request saying that the country had nothing to do with the rescue mission.
It cannot be ascertained if re- routing to Valencia, Spain would be feasible. The ship is estimated to be more than 1,400km or 750 nautical miles away from Valencia. The Aquarius also reported that it had not received any instruction to change its course for Spain.
Vincent Cochtel, special envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or UNHCR expressed concern for the safety of the migrants on-board the Aquarius which included more than 100 children:
“People are in distress, are running out of provisions and need help quickly. Broader issues such as who has responsibility and how these responsibilities can best be shared between states should be looked at later.”
Salvini refused to give in to the UNHCR’s narrative and remained defiant:
“Enough! Saving lives is a duty, but transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp isn’t. Malta takes in nobody. France pushes people back at the border. Spain defends its frontier with weapons. From today, Italy will also start to say no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration.”
The United Nations is approaching the situation with caution. There is growing sentiment in Italy for the country to follow the path of the United Kingdom and leave the EU.
Joseph Muscat, Prime Minister of Malta took the opportunity to fire a salvo at Italy over social media:
“We thank Spain for offering to take in the Aquarius after Italy broke international rules and caused a standoff.”
Muscat said Malta would send fresh supplies onboard the Aquarius:
“We will have to sit down and discuss how to prevent this from happening again. This is a European issue.”
Over the past five years, it is estimated that more than 600,000 from Africa have made it to Italian shores. Of the 600,000, around 500,000 still remain in Italy. Salvini’s party won the elections by running on an anti-immigration platform.