A search-and-rescue ship carrying 629 people was stuck for two days off-shore from Italy, where a new right-wing government leader has refused to allow the migrant rescue operation to take port.
Matteo Salvini, newly elected Italian Interior Minister, challenged the Mediterranean island of Malta to take in the migrants instead.
“Malta takes in nobody,” Salvini posted on Facebook on Sunday. “From today, Italy will also start to say no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration.”
Malta officials have rejected this request.
“Malta is in full conformity with international obligations and will not take the vessel in its ports,” Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted.
On Monday Spain stepped in and announced that the ship would be allowed to dock in the southeastern city of Valencia. “It is our duty to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a secure port for these people,” said Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.
However, Doctors Without Borders tweeted that they had not received communication from “relevant Maritime Rescue Coordination Centres in Rome and Madrid” and added that Valencia is a three-day journey away with an already overcrowded boat.
The ship is named Aquarius and operated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the rescue organization SOS Mediterranee.
The two humanitarian organizations completed six separate rescue operations on Saturday night and Sunday morning and overfilled their ship, which is equipped for roughly 550 people, according to project coordinator Aloys Vimard. The 629 total passengers on board include seven pregnant women.
Aquarius was ordered to hold its position, 35 nautical miles from shore, by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Center on Sunday evening. They are 27 nautical miles from Malta.
UPDATE: Medical situation for 629 people currently onboard #Aquarius stable for now but unnecessary delay to disembarkation in safe port puts vulnerable patients at risk, particularly: 7 pregnant women, 15 w/ serious chemical burns, several critical drowning +hypothermia patients pic.twitter.com/wLx5iyJ8v7
— MSF Sea (@MSF_Sea) June 11, 2018
Salvini was elected on an anti-immigration platform and serves as the head of the far-right Lega in Italy. Italy has received 13,808 new migrant arrivals in 2018 alone, according to a report by International Organization of Migration (IOM).
“Everyone in Europe minds their own business, now Italy too is raising its head. STOP the filthy business of illegal immigration,” Salvini tweeted Sunday.
However, the mayor of Naples Luigi de Magistris and several other Italian politicians have publicly denounced the decision of their Interior Minister and said they are ready to safe port to the ship.
MSF called for immediate permission to reach land and reported that some passengers on board had chemical burns and hypothermia which need treatment.