Spain says migrants on charity boat can disembark in Algeciras


MADRID (Reuters) – The Spanish government on Sunday offered Algeciras as a port to disembark the more than a hundred migrants on a charity rescue ship stranded off the coast of Italy after the boat had spent more than two weeks waiting for a port to dock.

Minors who were among migrants stranded on the Spanish migrant rescue ship Open Arms are pictured before disembarking from an Italian Finance Police boat, in Lampedusa, Italy August 17, 2019. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

The migrants, most of whom are African, were picked up by the Open Arms boat off the coast of Libya and have been waiting to disembark on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa.

Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has ordered his officials not to let the migrants disembark, though he made a partial concession on Saturday by allowing 27 minors to leave the boat.

He added that he had only agreed to this at the insistence of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

“Spain always acts on humanitarian emergencies. It is necessary to establish an orderly and supportive European solution, leading the migration challenge with the EU’s values of progress and humanism,” Spanish acting prime minister Pedro Sanchez said on Twitter.

France, Germany, Romania, Portugal, Spain and Luxembourg said earlier this week they would help relocate the migrants. Once the boat disembarks in Algeciras, the agreed distribution will take place, the Spanish government said in a statement on Sunday.

Sanchez took the decision to offer Algeciras as a port to dock the Open Arms because of the “emergency situation” onboard, the statement added. It also criticized the “inconceivable response of Italian authorities”, especially Salvini’s.

Salvini issued a statement on Saturday reiterating that Open Arms could have taken the migrants to Spain and that the non-governmental organization was to blame for their plight.

Salvini, leader of the ruling League party, has built his popularity on a vigorous campaign against illegal immigration.

Open Arms said on Saturday it could not guarantee the security of the migrants onboard. Its director and founder Oscar Camps said there were constant fights on board and the tension was unsustainable.

Reporting by Joan Faus; Editing by David Goodman and Mark Potter

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