A rescue ship run by a European charity is headed to Spain with more than 600 migrants on board after Italy and Malta refused to accept the vessel. Italy’s new government, which campaigned on halting the flow of migrants into the country, is starting to make good on his promises.
The European Union and the United Nations refugee agency had called for a swift end to a political standoff that left 629 migrants on the rescue ship Aquarius drifting at sea. Spain has now offered to take the ship in after Italy and Malta refused.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez ordered authorities to allow the Aquarius to dock in the eastern port of Valencia. Sanchez’s office issued a statement saying “it is our duty to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a secure port for these people.”
More than 100 unaccompanied minors and a number of pregnant women are on board the Aquarius. Six different rescue operations took place over the weekend off the coast of Libya, coordinated by the Italian coast guard. Medical workers had said food on board the ship was going to run out by Monday night.
Italy’s new deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, had said the country would not allow the ship to dock in any of its ports. Italy asked Malta to provide assistance to Aquarius because it was the nearest available port. But the small island nation’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, refused.
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.
On a recent visit to the southern port of Pozzallo where many migrants have been arriving, Salvini said Italy is a member of international organizations such as the U.N. and NATO. And so, he asked why is it that in the Mediterranean and in North Africa there is not more concrete intervention to defend security?
More than 600,000 migrants have reached Italy by boat from Africa in the past five years. The new Italian government led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has made it clear that the EU cannot continue to leave Italy to deal with the migrant crisis on its own.