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Afp

Migrant rescue ship says Spain port offer 'incomprehensible'

By AFP
media

A charity vessel carrying 107 rescued migrants criticised Monday a proposal that it unload its passengers in Spain's Balearic Islands, some 1,000 kilometres from its current location off the coast of Italy where it has been stuck in limbo for days.

Spain said late Sunday the ship could dock in Mallorca after the Spanish Proactiva Open Arms charity which operates the boat rejected an initial offer to go to the southwestern port of Algeciras because it was too far away.

"After 18 days of deadlock, Italy and Spain seem to have reached an agreement designating Mallorca as a landing port. This decision seems totally incomprehensible to us," the NGO said in a statement.

"While our boat is 800 metres (yards) off the coast of Lampedusa, European states are asking a small NGO like ours to face... three days of sailing in harsh weather conditions," it added.

Some people have been on board the Open Arms for 18 days, putting them on track to surpass the record of 19 days which 32 migrants spent stranded on another charity rescue ship, the Sea-Watch 3, in January.

Open Arms founder Oscar Camps on Sunday published a video showing four migrants jumping off the ship in a desperate bid to swim ashore before they were stopped and brought back.

"It is urgent to end this inhumane and unacceptable situation which the people who we rescued at sea are living," Open Arms said in a statement.

- Safety concerns -

The Spanish government denied the existence of an agreement with Italy and said it had not received a "clear and direct reply" from the NGO to its Mallorca offer.

"It is not a question of accepting or not accepting" the offer, an Open Arms spokeswoman said.

"The answer we gave them is that we cannot guarantee the safety of these people on our boat. Since Italy and Spain have assumed responsibility of these people, they should find a solution."

Italy's Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli on Sunday offered the Open Arms a coastguard escort to Spain.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, on Monday welcomed Spain's "good will" but urged "all member states and NGOs to cooperate and find a solution which will allow the people on board the Open Arms to disembark as soon as possible".

The Open Arms has been anchored since Thursday within swimming distance of Lampedusa.

Six European Union countries -- France, Germany, Romania, Portugal, Spain and Luxembourg - have offered to take in the migrants aboard the Open arms boat.

But Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who is also deputy prime minister, has refused to allow migrant rescue vessels to dock as part of his hardline policies.

- 'Illegal and incomprehensible' -

Salvini, who has plunged the Italian government into crisis by calling for fresh elections, argues Italy bears an unfair burden as the first port of call for the rescued migrants and it is up to EU partners to do their part to resolve the crisis.

Spain's Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said Italy has closed its port to the Open Arms in a "totally illegal and incomprehensible way" but she also criticised the NGO for not accepting Madrid's permission to dock.

"We offered them everything because we don't want these lives to be in danger any longer," she told news radio Cadena Ser.

Salvini on Saturday reluctantly agreed to let 27 migrant children from the Open Arms disembark.

"Why doesn't the Open Arms go to Spain? In 18 days they could have gone and returned three times to Ibiza and Formentera. They are carrying out a political battle," he said on Twitter.

During the past 18 days 479 migrants arrived on Italy's shores, more than 100 of them on Lampedusa, according to the interior ministry.

 
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