Spain has reportedly said it would take in a ship with hundreds of migrants aboard after Italy refused to allow the ship to dock in its waters.
On Sunday, Italy’s new Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, denied the ship, The Aquarius, carrying around 629 migrants, permission to dock.
Salvini, leader of the right-wing party the League, said that by denying the ship permission to dock, it was saying “no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration”. During Italy’s recent election, the League promised voters it would be taking a tough stance on immigration.
While denying the ship permission to dock, he said that “France pushes people back at the border, Spain defends its frontier with weapons”. He suggested that Malta take in the migrants, saying “Malta takes in nobody”.
“It is not possible for Malta to say ‘no’ to every request for help. The Good Lord put Malta closer than Sicily to Africa,” he said.
On Monday afternoon, Spain’s newly appointed Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, gave instructions for the ship to be allowed into the port at Valencia, Reuters reports his office as saying.
Sanchez took office last week.
The ship, run by the German charity organisation SOS Méditerranée, said that the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre told it to stand by in its position, which was 35 nautical miles from Italy and 27 nautical miles from Malta, after picking up stranded migrants in six different rescue operations off Libya’s coast.
“Our objective is the disembarkation in a port of safety of the 629 people now on board the Aquarius – some we rescued yesterday night in difficult conditions,” Mathilde Auvillain, spokesperson for the charity, said.
Malta rejected the Italian Interior Minister’s suggestion that it take in the migrants, saying that as they were rescued in Libyan waters, they fell under Italy’s jurisdiction.
The rescued migrants include a group of around 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 younger children and seven pregnant women, the charity says.
The minors come from Eritrea, Ghana, Nigeria and Sudan, and are aged between 13 and 17, a reporter on board The Aquarius, Anelise Borges, is reported by BBC as sharing.