Migrant rescue NGO Proactiva Open Arms has rejected an offer from the Spanish government to dock in Spain and land migrants onboard, claiming the voyage would take too long.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez invited the NGO to land the migrants aboard the vessel in the port of Algeciras but the NGO refused despite having been moored off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa for seventeen days already, Il Giornale reports. The Spanish government further acted on the decision Tuesday, dispatching a naval warship to collect the migrants on board, reports El Pais.
Italian populist Interior Minister Matteo Salvini reacted with fury to the NGO’s rejection of the Spanish offer saying, “The Spanish NGO refuses the port offered by Spain! Incredible and unacceptable, they organize tourist cruises and decide where to land ??? I won’t give up, Italy is no longer the refugee camp of Europe.”
Proactiva Open Arms has also claimed that the ship is suffering from a medical emergency but this claim was refused during an inspection over the weekend on Saturday, carried out at the behest of the Italian assistant prosecutor in Agrigento.
Some of the migrants have disembarked the ship and were taken to Lampedusa, including 27 migrants claiming to be underage, although eight have already been proved to be adults according to Il Giornale.
Head of the Lampedusa Clinic, Francesco Cascio told Italian media that of the 13 migrants he looked at, only one of them showed signs of illness, saying the migrant had otitis, an inflammation of the inner ear.
— Thomas D. Williams (@tdwilliamsrome) January 7, 2019
The current showdown between the NGO and Interior Minister Salvini is just the latest case of a foreign-based migrant rescue NGO challenging the closed port policy of the Italian government, a policy that has led to a massive reduction in drowning deaths since 2018.
After the NGO rejected the Spanish government offer, vice-premier Carmen Calvo revealed that Madrid had managed to negotiate an agreement with Malta which was also rejected by Open Arms.
“Open Arms did not want to go to Malta,” Calvo said and added, “We offered all kinds of help: doctors, food. We don’t understand the position of the Open Arms. We have offered the nearest port, we cannot bring our ports to Italy.”
“We realize the critical nature of the situation due to uncertainty and desperation but once there is a safe harbour and migrants know where they will land anyone who understands that then there are no problems,” she said.