Spain will welcome a rescue ship with 629 migrants stranded in the Mediterranean sea to avoid a humanitarian disaster, after Italy and Malta both refused to let the ship dock.
The migrants were saved by the French charity SOS Mediterranee on Saturday and were stranded more than 24 hours in the Mediterranean Sea, when Matteo Salvini, the new Italian interior minister, reportedly refused to allow the vessel to dock at Italian ports.
The Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Monday afternoon that his country would give “safe harbor” to the Aquarius, the vessel which is operated jointly by Medecine Sans Frontiers (MSF) and SOS Medeterranee.
He said, “It is our obligation to help to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and to offer a safe port to these people.”
The crew of the Aquarius boat had said it had food and water for just two to three days, amid a tense standoff between Malta and Italy.
The Maltese government rejected a request to take in the boat, saying international law required that the refugees and migrants be taken to Italian ports.
Matteo Salvini, Italy’s far-right interior minister, has declared victory after a standoff over the fate of 629 people on a humanitarian rescue boat prompted Spain to agree to accept them.
“We have opened a front in Brussels,” said Salvini, who became interior minister last week. “We are contacting the European commission so that it can fulfil its duties towards Italy that have never been respected.”
With the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, urging the urgent disembarkation of all 629 people on board, including 100 children,
The NGOs suggested that the hundreds on board “are running out of provisions.” “Particularly seven pregnant woman, 15 with serious chemical burns and several critical drowning hypothermia patients.”
Italy and Malta showed no sign of backing down despite the UN call to immediately allow the boat to dock, describing the situation as “an urgent humanitarian imperative”.