Spain offers safe harbor to rescue boat blocked by Italy

The new Prime Minister of Spain has offered safe harbor to a Mediterranean rescue boat with over 600 migrants on board, following Italy’s decision to block the ship from docking.

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The Aquarius, operated by SOS Méditerranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is carrying 629 people including 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women, having carried out six rescue operations over the night of June 10.

Read more: EU’s refugee deterrence policies drive “suffering out of sight” say aid workers


BREAKING: After an extremely busy night on the Central #Mediterranean, the #Aquarius now has 629 people on board – including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children & 7 pregnant women – from six different operations. The #Aquarius is now heading North to a port of safety.

Matteo Salvini, who took office as Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior on June 1, wrote on Facebook that his country was saying “no” to “illegal immigration.”

Salvini, who leads the nationalist and euroskeptic Lega Nord, wrote that while rescue ships in the Mediterranean come from many countries, all of those countries prevent refugees and migrants from entering.

Matteo Salvini on Twitter

Da oggi anche l’Italia comincia a dire NO al traffico di esseri umani, NO al business dell’immigrazione clandestina. Il mio obiettivo è garantire una vita serena a questi ragazzi in Africa e ai nostri figli in Italia.

Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón, leader of Spain’s Socialist Workers party, took office as Prime Minister on June 2. In a statement, Sanchez said it was his government’s obligation under international law to offer a safe harbor to those on board the Aquarius, and avoid a humanitarian disaster.

On June 1, Aloys Vimard, an MSF project coordinator on board the Aquarius , told WikiTribune that the EU’s deterrence policies were driving migrants and refugees to take greater risks to make the crossing.

A big former fishing boat with aan orange hull, name "aquarius" near the front, shown docked
Rescue ship the Aquarius is carrying 629 people after 6 operations overnight

“A reduction in the number of people leaving Libyan shores or getting to Europe does not mean a reduction of suffering,” said Vimard. “The suffering is just out of sight.”

Vimard said MSF had seen some people attempt the crossing six times, and while deterrence was reducing the overall number of people crossing, it was contributing to an increased death rate.

MSF were among several international aid groups involved in Mediterranean rescue operations that told WikiTribune they do not currently operate in Spain, despite the crossing to Spain increasing in traffic over the past year.

Migrants deaths dropped sharply (as did sea-crossings), after Italy struck an agreement with Libya’s UN-backed government.

The Aquarius was attempting to dock in Palermo, Sicily. The city’s mayor – and other mayors in Naples, Messina, and Reggio Calabria – said they were prepared to disobey Italin authorities and allow the boat to dock in their seaports.


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