Spain's Prime Minister has said the country will take in a rescue ship stranded in the Mediterranean, to help avoid a humanitarian disaster. His Excellency Pedro Sánchez said he would give "safe harbour" to the Aquarius and the 629 people on board, after Italy and Malta both refused to let the ship dock.
The United Nations (UN) refugee agency and the European Union (EU) had both called for a swift end to the stand-off between the two countries. Mr. Sánchez, who took office a week ago, said the ship would dock in Valencia.
The migrants aboard the Aquarius were picked up from inflatable boats off the coast of Libya at the weekend, in six different rescue operations, according to the Non-Governmental Organisation, SOS Méditerranée. "It is our duty to help avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a safe port to these people, to comply with our human rights obligations," Mr Sanchez's office said.
The Council of Europe welcomed Spain's move, with the organisation's Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, tweeting: "Saving lives at sea is an obligation that states must always uphold."
Spain's decision to take in the ship was hailed by Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini as a "victory" for his government's hardline immigration policy. On board the ship are people from different countries and those saved include 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 younger children and seven pregnant women, SOS Méditerranée said. The minors are aged between 13 and 17 and come from Eritrea, Ghana, Nigeria and Sudan, according to a journalist on the ship, Anelise Borges.
"Most of them are sleeping outside. They are obviously exhausted, they have been exposed to the elements, they have been at sea for 20 to 30 hours prior to their rescue," she told the BBC. "They are fragile and we have yet to learn what's going to happen to them," she added.
In a statement dated 12th June 2018, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, commended the Government of Spain for giving safe harbour to the over 600 migrants, including women and children, who were stranded in the Mediterranean Sea since Sunday 10 June 2018.
"Migrants in distress, irrespective of their origin and legal status, deserve the necessary protection under international law," Chairperson Faki said. “European Union Member States must demonstrate their commitment to our shared commitments to address the immediate safety and human rights of all migrants within and across borders, while tackling the underlying causes driving illegal migration," Chairperson Faki emphasised.