MADRID (AP) — The Latest on the influx of migrants to Europe (all times local):
France’s Interior Minister says the country’s office in charge of asylum will send a team to Spain to identify refugees from the rescue ship Aquarius who could be eligible to come to France.
Minister Gerard Collomb’s statement on Saturday didn’t say how many of the 630 migrants being transferred to Valencia, Spain, from the Aquarius and two Italian government boats might be allowed to come to France.
He said Paris’ offer to take in some migrants “in need of protection” is meant both to show French cooperation with Spain and to “encourage … a coordinated response among EU member states” for all challenges linked to migration.
The plight of the Aquarius, stuck off the coast of Sicily for days as both Italy and Malta refusing docking permission, reflects the intense EU tensions over migration.
Italy’s new populist government is criticizing aid groups that rescue migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, declaring two German rescue boats can’t dock in Italian ports even though the groups operate at sea and don’t bring migrants ashore.
Mission Lifeline said Saturday that it was asked by the Italian coast guard coordination center to help rescue around 118 migrants on Friday. Lifeline’s crew helped transfer the migrants onto a Singapore-flagged merchant ship, the Viking Amber, and remained at sea as it usually does for any subsequent rescues, according to Lifeline co-founder Axel Steier.
Italy’s new interior minister, Matteo Salvini, nevertheless lashed out at the aid groups he accuses of operating as taxi services for human traffickers. In a Facebook post Saturday, Salvini said Lifeline and the Seefuchs ship of the German group Sea-Eye couldn’t dock in Italy.
Spain says that it has accepted an offer by the French government to take in some of hundreds of migrants set to arrive on the aid boat Aquarius.
The government said in a Saturday statement that France has offered to take in eligible migrants who wish to go to France. It said Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez appreciated the cooperation of French president Emmanuel Macron, and “believes this is the framework of cooperation that Europe should use to respond” to the immigration issue.
The Aquarius, a rescue ship operated by the aid group SOS Mediterranee Sea, was stuck off the coast of Sicily for days when Italy refused permission to dock and demanded Malta do so. After Malta refused, Spain stepped in and offered to accept them.
The Aquarius and two Italian government boats helping transfer the 630 migrants are expected to arrive in Spain’s eastern port of Valencia on Sunday.
Spanish authorities have said they will examine case by case if the migrants qualify for asylum according to the country’s regulations.
Spain’s maritime rescue service says it has saved 825 people and recovered four bodies from dozens of migrant boats attempting the perilous crossing of the Mediterranean Sea over the past two days.
The service says it pulled the migrants from a total of 69 different boats its rescue craft intercepted throughout Friday and Saturday morning after they departed from African shores.
The spike in arrivals comes as Spain prepares to receive another 630 migrants after Italy and Malta refused to let the aid boat Aquarius land earlier this week. The Aquarius and two Italian ships carrying the migrants are expected to arrive at the eastern port of Valencia on Sunday.
At least 792 migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean so far this year, according to the United Nations.