Spanish port to accept 629 stranded migrants snubbed by Italy

Migrants remain at sea as Italy-Malta standoff intensifies

Migrants remain at sea as Italy-Malta standoff intensifies

The 629 migrants, including pregnant women and scores of children, have been at the heart of a huge row between Malta and Italy since their maritime rescue by French charity SOS Mediterranee on Saturday.

Italy claimed Malta should accept the Aquarius because it had the safest, closest port to the ship.

Amid the firm "no" from Italy's national government, several Italian mayors offered to let the ship dock in their ports, including the left-leaning or centrist mayors of Naples, Reggio Calabria and Crotone.

The row has triggered global concern about the migrants' plight.

Matteo Salvini, the head of the far-right League party who became interior minister this month vowing to crack down on the influx of migrants from Africa, had blocked the ship, operated by SOS Mediterranee and Doctors without Borders, over the weekend.

Malta, for its part, has consistently refused to take in migrants, citing its small size and limited capacities.

Spain's new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez stepped in, offering the boat safe harbor in the eastern port city of Valencia.

Days after assuming office, Mr Salvini issued a warning to people smugglers in a statement that drew direct comparisons with former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott's "stop the boats" rhetoric.

Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted his thanks to Sanchez "for agreeing to accept the Aquarius after Italy violated worldwide law and caused an impasse".

The Aquarius ship at sea. "What does worldwide law say?"

Fresh water and food were running low aboard the vessel by Monday afternoon and fresh supplies had to be brought from Italy and Malta.

In a statement, the Office of the Prime Minister said that the two leaders had discussed the current migration situation and that there was convergence in the two countries' policies.

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That would be illegal, under the 2016 law, unless North Korea also agrees to key human rights reforms. The level of concern is higher, though, in Japan, another US treaty ally in Asia with much at stake.

Euronews correspondent Anelise Borges said the group consisted of 90 migrants, with more than 400 people remaining to be transferred according to an initial plan.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who had been criticized for not offering to take in the boat at a French port, broke his silence on the topic during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday, denouncing the "cynicism and irresponsibility of the Italian government", government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux said at a press conference.

"There is an urgent humanitarian imperative here", added Vincent Cochetel, the United Nations refugee agency special envoy for the Central Mediterranean.

The EU and the bloc's biggest member state Germany made similar pleas.

"The priority of both the Italian and Maltese authorities should be ensuring these people receive the care they need", European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told a daily briefing.

Salvini refused to back down.

"Saving lives at sea is a duty, but transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp is not", Salvini wrote on Facebook on Monday. "We have hosted 650,000 migrants in recent years alone, all of whom pass by Malta, an European Union country, and the government says, 'Ciao, Ciao, go to Italy.'".

Early on Tuesday morning, the coordinator for the non-profit aid group Doctors Without Borders, which has staff aboard the Aquarius, confirmed that the journey to Spain will go ahead.

The number of migrants arriving in Spain has been on the rise, Benavides reports, while the number of sea arrivals in Italy "has dropped 77 percent compared to this time previous year, following controversial deals with the Libyan Coast Guard and investigations into NGO search-and-rescues".

Among those on board the Aquarius are seven pregnant women, 11 young children and 123 unaccompanied minors.

"It says that the country responsible for operations in that area has primary responsibility for taking them from the ship".

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