Spanish port to accept 629 stranded migrants snubbed by Italy

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Hundreds of migrants stranded on board the Aquarius rescue vessel in the Mediterranean will be transferred to Italian ships and taken to Spain, the French charity SOS Mediterranée has said.

Migrants are rescued by staff members of the MV Aquarius, a search-and-rescue ship run in partnership between SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres in the central Mediterranean Sea, on June 10.

The new Spanish administration headed by Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez agreed to allow the Aquarius to dock in its eastern port of Valencia, his office said in a statement.

Refugees International is dismayed by the Italian government's refusal to allow the SOS Mediteranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) ship, the Aquarius, to disembark in Italy.

The small island nation with fewer than a half million inhabitants says it already accepts more refugees per capita than Italy, which has taken in more than 600,000 boat migrants since 2014.

Sánchez, who took office a week ago, said the ship would dock in Valencia.

Italy and Malta held firm despite the heavy diplomatic pressure, with Italy's new interior minister, Matteo Salvini, clearly using the high seas drama as a pretext to force the hand of Italy's European neighbours.

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".

"Italy broke global rules and caused a stand-off", Maltese premier Joseph Muscat tweeted. He tells VOA there is no merit to the suggestion that people in distress will be dissuaded from crossing the sea in flimsy boats if they know rescue is not a possibility.

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Malta, which is near the Aquarius' position, also refused the vessel permission to enter port.

"The people we saved yesterday were in a hard condition, at least 50 were at risk of drowning".

More than 6,00,000 refugees from Africa have reached Italy in the past five years.

"Saving lives at sea is a duty, but transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp is not", Mr Salvini said on Facebook on Monday.

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

"Denying disembarkation to desperate people rescued at sea can not be considered as a victory: it is the wrong response to the lack of responsibility and burden sharing between member states", said Aloys Vimard, MSF's project coordinator on board Aquarius.

They had hoped to find refuge in Italy.

"All EU governments and institutions must step up and support countries on the frontline dealing with sea arrivals such as Italy, to guarantee shared solutions and stop unacceptable silence and inaction from EU states".

Salvini, 45, has continued with his anti-refugee rhetoric since taking control of the interior ministry, asking on Friday for North Atlantic Treaty Organisation to defend Italy, which he says is "under attack from the south".

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