Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 September 2019

Open Arms migrant ship refuses offer to dock in Spain

The charity, whose vessel is situated off the coast of Italy, said there was a “humanitarian emergency” on board

Migrants on board the Open Arms ship in Lampedusa island. EPA
Migrants on board the Open Arms ship in Lampedusa island. EPA

A migrant rescue ship carrying more than 100 people rejected an offer on Sunday from Spain to dock in Algeciras, with the NGO that operates the vessel citing the “extreme humanitarian emergency” on board.

Spanish aid charity Open Arms, whose ship is currently situated off Lampedusa, is in a stand-off with the Italian government, which has refused to let the vessel dock.

The government allowed 27 unaccompanied minors to disembark on Saturday after Premier Giuseppe Conte wrote to hardline Interior Minister Matteo Salvini to demand that they be let off the boat.

Mr Salvini reluctantly allowed the minors to leave the ship but the remaining 105 adults and two accompanied minors, most of them from Africa, are still on board.

A tweet by Open Arms said Mr Salvini and Europe would be "responsible" if "the worst happens."

“We do not accept Spain as a port to go because we are in a state of extreme humanitarian emergency. What they need is to be disembarked now,” an Open Arms spokeswoman said earlier in the day.

“It is unthinkable to navigate for six days – that is what it would take for us to arrive to Algeciras.”

Open Arms chief Oscar Camps warned on Saturday that tensions were rising on board and fights breaking out that threatened the safety of everyone on the vessel.

France’s interior minister Christophe Castaner said on Sunday that his country had offered to take in 40 migrants from the boat, AFP reported.

Some of the migrants have resorted to jumping into the sea and trying to swim to Lampedusa.

In a video shared on Twitter by Mr Camps, a number of people wearing life jackets can be seen swimming towards the Italian island.

“We have been warning for days – desperation has its limits,” Mr Camps tweeted.

The migrants were picked up from the Mediterranean near Libya and have been stuck on the ship for 17 days amid the stand-off with the Italian interior minister.

Although Open Arms won a legal battle to enter Italy’s territorial waters, the ship has remained off the coast because Mr Salvini prohibits humanitarian aid groups from docking.

The incident, and other similar refusals to allow NGO boats to dock, has highlighted a rift between Mr Salvini’s anti-migrant League and the 5-Star Movement, which together govern Italy.

Mr Salvini hopes to end the coalition by winning a no-confidence vote and calling an election, in which he would seek to become leader himself.

Updated: August 18, 2019 09:29 PM

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