June 12 (UPI) — After being stranded at sea for days, more than 600 migrants will be admitted to Spain after Italy and Malta refused to take them in, officials said Tuesday.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez offered to accept the migrants Monday after the governments of Italy and Malta refused to let the vessel Aquarius dock in either country.
The migrants will be taken to the port of Valencia, officials said — about 100 on the Aquarius and the rest on two naval ships. A deal to accept the boat’s displaced passengers was struck early Tuesday.
More than 123 children were aboard the Aquarius. Officials said they were picked up during six rescue operations off Libya’s coast. The migrants come from 26 countries, mostly Sudan, Sos Mediterranee said.
Although none of the migrants are seriously hurt, officials said many are ill. There were also seven pregnant women on the boat.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi called Spain’s decision to accept the migrants “courageous.”
“Irrespective of how European countries choose to manage their sea borders, the principle of rescue at sea is one that should never be in doubt,” he said.
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who strongly opposed letting the refugees land on Italy’s shores, was pleased with Spain’s decision.
“VICTORY!” he said in a tweet. “629 immigrants aboard the ship Aquarius headed for Spain, primary goal achieved!”
Salvini, an anti-immigration politician, said Monday it was “time to say no” to migrants and refused to open Italy’s ports, arguing Malta should accept the ship.
French President Emmanuel Macron condemned Italy’s refusal to take in the migrants as “playing politics.”
The French leader said there was a “degree of cynicism and irresponsibility” in Rome’s behavior, adding in cases of distress “those with the nearest coastline have a responsibility to respond.”
Doctors Without Borders praised Spain’s decision but said the stranded migrants need more immediate help.
“Disembarkation cannot be delayed further,” Dr. David Beversluis, a physician with the humanitarian group, said in a statement. “The priority must be to immediately disembark all 629 people — including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children and 6 pregnant women — at the nearest port of safety.
“The medical situation on board remains stable for now but people are exhausted and stressed.”