Spain has said it has accepted an offer from France to take in some migrants and refugees from the Aquarius rescue ship, currently en route to Spain with more than 600 people on board. “The French government will work together with the Spanish government to handle the arrival of the migrants,” Spain’s deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo said in a statement. “France will accept migrants who express the wish to go there” once they have been processed in Valencia, the statement said.
The vessel is at the heart of a major migration row between European Union member states. Chartered by a French aid group, the vessel rescued 629 people including many children and pregnant women off the coast of Libya last weekend. Italy’s new populist government and Malta refused to let it dock in their ports, accusing each other of failing to meet their humanitarian and EU commitments.
Spain eventually stepped in and agreed to receive the refugees. France – who had angered the Italian government by branding it irresponsible over the vessel rejection – offered to welcome Aquarius migrants who “meet the criteria for asylum”. The ship is making the 1,500km voyage to Spain accompanied by an Italian coast guard vessel, which has taken some of the migrants and refugees on board.
High waves and winds forced the convoy to take a detour on the way. The plight of the Aquarius has again highlighted the failure of EU member states to work together to deal with the influx of migrant arrivals since 2015. After Italy’s decision to ban the Aquarius, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte met yesterday and agreed that the EU should set up asylum processing centres in Africa to prevent “voyages of death.”
They also demanded “profound” changes to the EU’s asylum rules which put the migrant burden on their port of entry to Europe – mainly Italy and Greece. Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has warned that other NGO operated rescue ships would also be banned from docking.