Published: Fri, June 15, 2018
Global Media | By Derrick Guzman

European Union urges 'swift resolution' on stranded migrants

European Union urges 'swift resolution' on stranded migrants

The migrants saved by the Aquarius, run by French NGO SOS Mediterranee, were stuck on the overloaded ship for over 30 hours as Italy and Malta bickered over who should take them before Spain stepped in and offered the port in Valencia as a place for the migrants to land in Europe.

The ship is named Aquarius and operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the rescue organization SOS Mediterranee.

Vincent Cochetel, the United Nation's High Commissioner For Refugees' (UNHCR's) Special Envoy for the Central Mediterranean appealed to the two countries to deal with the "urgent humanitarian imperative here" first.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who took office just more than one week ago, has given instructions for the boat to be admitted to the eastern port of Valencia, his office said in a statement.

"It is our obligation to help to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and to offer a safe port to these people", his office said in a statement.

A bitter row broke out between Italy and Malta at the weekend over which country should take in the Aquarius rescue boat, which picked up the migrants on Saturday and Sunday.

Italy has long demanded the European Union change its migration policy and make good on promises to accept more refugees, saying Italy has been left alone to coordinate rescues and accept tens of thousands of migrants a year for asylum processing.

Both the Mayor of Barcelona and the Mayor of Valencia offered their cities to take in the ship, with the latter being the end destination for the Aquarius' 1,300 km route.

Malta on Sunday reiterated its refusal to accept the ship, ignoring calls from Rome.

"Matteo Salvini, interior minister and leader of the anti-immigrant party the league, posted [on Twitter] under the hashtag "ports closed" 'Italy too says no to human trafficking'".

The passengers had been rescued in six different operations, according to SOS Mediterranée.

Malta's government replied, saying its prime minister, Joseph Muscat, had spoken to the Italian premier, Giuseppe Conte, and underlined "that Malta is acting in full conformity with its global obligations". "The better option would be to disembark the rescued people in the nearest port after which they can be transferred to Spain or other safe countries for further care & legal processing".

Even as he drew his line, an Italian coast guard vessel with 936 migrants and two migrants' bodies on board was headed toward Catania, Sicily, where it was expected to dock on Tuesday evening, Italian news agency ANSA said.

And Italian and Maltese authorities stood firm, providing resources to help with the trip to Spain rather than offering to reopen a closer port.

The diplomatic stand-off had left the migrants stranded at sea and revealed the tough negotiating tactics of Italy's new anti-immigrant government.

Italy refused because some politicians there don't want the country to take in as many migrants as it has in the past.

Salvini was elected on an anti-immigration platform and serves as the head of the far-right Lega in Italy.

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