Stranded migrants disembark in Valencia
Three ships carrying 630 people saved by the Aquarius arrive in Spain
A fleet of three ships carrying some 630 migrants stranded in the Mediterranean sea for nine days arrived in Valencia on Sunday, where the Spanish government offered a safe harbor after Italy and Malta rejected to do so.
The Italian coast guard vessel Dattilo was the first to arrive. With 274 people on board, including 32 women and 60 unaccompanied minors, the ship berthed in Valencia at 6:45 am. Two more ships arrived throughout the day, including the Aquarius, run by French charities SOS Mediterranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
“The men, women, and children on board the Aquarius have fled conflict and poverty, and have survived horrific abuse in Libya. They have been shipped from one boat to another like cargo and endured the elements on an unnecessarily long journey at sea,” said Karline Kleijer, MSF Head of Emergencies.
As the trip to Spain was first deemed too dangerous for the Aquarius alone, Italy offered two vessels to escort the ship to Valencia and carry some people.
"There needs to be a serious European commitment to save lives and disembark rescued people properly"
Karline Kleijer · MSF Head of Emergencies
Italy's decision to bar the Aquarius from docking in its ports was highly controversial. The new Italian government, with the far-right leader Matteo Salvini as its interior minister, has recently rejected other refugee ships.
“We are grateful to Spain for stepping in, even as Italian and other European governments have shamefully failed in their humanitarian responsibilities and placed politics over the lives of vulnerable people," said Kleijer. "But there needs to be a serious European commitment to save lives and disembark rescued people properly."
French president Emmanuel Macron took on Salvini and the Italian government for refusing to let the Aquarius land in its ports. Macron said France would welcome the Aquarius migrants that wanted to go to the country.
In Catalonia, president Quim Torra and many city mayors, such as Barcelona's Ada Colau, offered to host a number of migrants. It's not clear yet what will happen once they arrive in Spain.
In total, some 2,300 people were deployed in Valencia to help welcome the ships, including volunteers and Red Cross professionals, as well as translators and lawyers.