Spain’s prime minister has said that the country will welcome the 629 migrants on board the stranded rescue vessel MS Aquarius.
Pedro Sánchez is offering the boat “safe harbour” in Valencia after both Italy and Malta refused to let the ship enter their docks.
“The prime minister has given instructions so that Spain can fulfil its international humanitarian crisis commitments and has announced that the Aquarius will be welcomed into a Spanish port,” it said in a statement released on Monday.
“It is our duty to help avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a ‘safe harbour’ to these people in accordance with international law.”
Italy’s new Interior Minister Matteo Salvini refused to let the boat with many children and pregnant women dock in Italy, saying: “Saving lives is a duty, turning Italy into a huge refugee camp is not.”
“My aim is to guarantee a peaceful life for these youths in Africa and for our children in Italy. We will shut the ports,” he added.
Salvini is the leader of the Italian right-wing League party. He has promised to take a tough stance against migration.
Before Sánchez gave the news, the UN’s refugee agency called for authorities to allow the 629 migrants to disembark urgently.
“People are in distress, are running out of provisions and need help quickly. Broader issues such as who has responsibility and how these responsibilities can best be shared between states should be looked at later,” said the UNHCR’s special envoy for the central Mediterranean, Vincent Cochetel in a statement.
The migrants on board of the MS Aquarius were picked up in six different rescue operations off the coast of Libya. The ship has an estimated 100 children on board.