CATANIA, Sicily – Italy dispatched two ships on Tuesday to help carry 629 migrants trapped on their coasts on the one-day trip to Spain in what is forecast as bad weather, after the new populist government denied them the safe harbor in a dramatic attempt to force Europe to share the burden of relentless arrivals.
The rescue ship Aquarius has been stagnating since Saturday in international waters off the coasts of Italy and Malta, both have refused entry. The ship has 629 migrants, including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children and six pregnant women.
The aid group Doctors Without Borders, which operates Aquarium with SOS Mediterranee, urged Italy and Malta to reconsider their refusal to allow stranded migrants to land and then pass through other means safely to Spain, which has responded to the difficult situation with a safe harbor offer. The aid group warned of serious health risks for a significant number of passengers.
Italy's new anti-migrant and right-wing interior minister, Matteo Salvini, fulfills a campaign promise to close Italian ports to non-governmental organizations that collect immigrants at sea, which has been compared to taxi services for immigrant smugglers .
Salvini, whose League is part of the populist coalition that took office this month, promised voters that other European countries would share the burden of caring for asylum-seekers arriving in Italy on boats unfit for navigation, mostly from Libya without law, while targeting aid vessels.
"All these are foreign ships that fly foreign flags that bring this human cargo to Italy," Salvini told private television La7 on Monday. "We have hosted 650,000 migrants only in recent years, they all went through Malta, an EU country, and the government says: Ciao, Ciao, go to Italy … I'm glad I gave a first small answer. "
While Salvini rejected the Aquarius, an Italian Coast Guard vessel with more than 900 migrants rescued in seven operations is expected to arrive on Italy's shores on Wednesday. 19659011] Meanwhile, hundreds of immigrants aboard the Aquarium were transferred on Tuesday afternoon to ships operated by the Italian Navy and Coast Guard, which will then accompany the aid vessel to the Spanish port of Valencia. Many remained on the deck of the overcrowded rescue boat and their safety was at risk from the long trip given the forecast of bad weather, said SOS Mediterranee spokeswoman Mathilde Auvillain
The Italian Coast Guard said that new supplies had been delivered to the Aquarium on Tuesday.
Valencia officials said they expected the ship to arrive in three or four days, depending on when they left and the weather conditions.
The new Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs said that Spain's decision to accept the migrant boat is also meant to pressure the leaders of the European Union to address the migratory policies of the bloc at the end of the month at an EU summit .
"Spain has made a gesture that aims to activate a European dynamic to stop looking, allowing one (member of the EU) to deal with the problem while the rest of us pass the ball," said the new Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs. Foreign, Josep Borrell, to the radio Ser on Monday night.
The decision to offer a port of docking in the east The Valencia had been a personal and direct movement of the new prime minister of the country, the socialist Pedro Sanchez.
Many Spanish regions and cities have offered to provide long-term support to immigrants, said Valencia's regional vice president, Monica Oltra. . The Red Cross was preparing shelter and medical assistance to meet immediate needs upon arrival.
Arritz For reported from Madrid, Colleen Barry reported from Milan.
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