Spain agrees to welcome refugee rescue boat after Italy and Malta refuse

ROME (CNS) -- Spain has announced it will let a ship holding 629 migrants and refugees, who were rescued from the Mediterranean, dock on its shores, after Italy and Malta refused to accept the vessel.

Doctors Without Borders operating on the Mediterranean Sea tweeted June 11 that among those on board were seven pregnant women, 15 people with serious chemical burns, several suffering from near drowning and hypothermia, and 123 unaccompanied minors.

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The ship Aquarius had been on standby since June 10, waiting for permission to dock at a nearby port of safety. The Aquarius had rescued hundreds of people June 10 from unsafe rubber boats -- one of which collapsed during the night. The ship also took in another 400 people rescued by Italian vessels.

The Italian minister of the interior, Matteo Salvini, announced June 10 that all Italian ports would be closed to the rescue boat after Maltese authorities refused to allow the ship to dock, saying international law required it to dock in Italy.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced later June 11 that his country would grant the Aquarius permission to dock for "humanitarian reasons. It is our duty to help avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a safe port to these people."

Meanwhile, the Rome-based Sant'Egidio Community called on Italy to remain faithful to its traditional values, starting with the duty to save human lives that are in danger.

In a June 11 press release, it also urged other European Union nations to fulfill their responsibilities, reminding them that rescue ships are allowed to dock in other countries bordering the Mediterranean, not just Italy and Greece.

Jesuit Father Camillo Ripamonti, president of "Centro Astalli," the Jesuit Refugee Service refugee center in Rome, criticized "demonstrations of power" and putting politics before the lives of migrants, in a statement released June 11.

"To abandon innocent people at sea can never be considered a political strategy," but is rather a serious human rights violation, which Italy will be called to answer for, he said.

The Italian branch of Save the Children also criticized holding children and other vulnerable people "hostage" in political disputes between nations. It decried prolonging the trauma of people who had already suffered while in Libya and during their unsafe voyage on the sea.

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