A ship carrying hundreds of migrants rescued from the Mediterranean Sea near Italian waters will be allowed to dock in the Spanish cities of Barcelona or Valencia after Italy’s new anti-immigrant government refused to back down on its pledge to “close the ports” and halt the “filthy business of illegal immigration.”
The Spanish prime minister’s office confirmed Monday that all 629 migrants, including 123 minors and seven pregnant women, aboard the search-and-rescue ship “Aquarius” would be granted permission to disembark in the Spanish coastal cities to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe.
It was not immediately clear if the Aquarius will take up the offer. The vessel is operated by humanitarian organizations Doctors Without Borders and SOS MEDITERRANEE.
Medical workers on the ship, which has been stranded at sea between Malta and Sicily by Italy’s new populist government since Sunday, said food on the boat would run out by day’s end. Fifteen people aboard the Aquarius are injured with serious chemical burns, some are critically ill from water in their lungs after nearly drowning and others have hypothermia, according to aid groups and doctors aboard the ship.
Barcelona and Valencia are several hundred miles away from the area where the Aquarius is stranded.
Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat refused to let the ship dock in a Maltese port after Italy urged him to do so, but said his country would conduct emergency medical evacuations if necessary. Muscat also accused Italy’s right-wing government under newly elected Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte of “creating a dangerous situation.”
The United Nations and the European Union have called for an end to the standoff, which marks the first major policy move by Italy’s new government.
“Saving lives is a duty, turning Italy into a huge refugee camp is not,” said Matteo Salvini, Italy’s interior minister and leader of the right-wing League Party.
Italy in recent years has become the main entry point for migrants from North Africa crossing into Europe, a situation Italy’s populists have vowed to change.
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