1st boat of Aquarius convoy with 630 migrants docks in Spain
VALENCIA, Spain — An Italian coast guard ship carrying migrants rescued from the Mediterranean Sea arrived in the Spanish port city of Valencia on Sunday, marking the end of a dispute that laid bare divisions among EU member states over migration and asylum policy.
The ship arrived at Valencia harbor around 6:20 a.m. after seven days at sea. It is one of three vessels carrying more than 600 migrants in total to Spain.
The other two ships were scheduled to arrive in three-hour intervals, Inigo Vila of the Spanish Red Cross said earlier.
The Italian coast guard ship was carrying 274 migrants, who would be provided with immediate medical examinations and care. Seven pregnant women were on board as well as 123 children.
The Aquarius, a rescue boat jointly run by the NGOs Doctors Without Borders and SOS Mediterranee, had been turned away last week by Italy and Malta, leaving the boat stranded on the high seas until Spain offered a mooring at Valencia.
The Aquarius was being escorted by two vessels, including the Italian coast guard ship. They joined the Aquarius after concerns emerged that it would not be able to safely complete the 932-mile journey to Spain in inclement weather and with 629 people aboard.
Elhadj As Sy, the secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, offered his thanks to Spain.
“We are very grateful, because while some look the other way, in Spain these people are welcomed,” he said at a news conference on Saturday while also praising MSF and SOS Mediterranee.
Since taking office on June 1, Italy's hard-line interior minister and deputy premier Matteo Salvini has pledged to end irregular migration into Italy via the Mediterranean.
Earlier this week, Rome was outraged when a French government spokesman, 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.
On Saturday, the Spanish government announced it would transfer to France any migrants arriving on the convoy who expressed a desire to reach that country.
In a government statement, Spain expressed its gratitude “to President Macron for his cooperation” and insisted that “this is the framework of cooperation with which Europe must respond” to the migration crisis.