Spain offers closest ports as safe haven for migrant vessel

Madrid - The Spanish government has offered its closest ports as a safe haven to the NGO vessel Open Arms, which has been refused entry to Italy with over 100 migrants on board.

Spain accepts refugees rejected by Italy

The migrants have been on the Open Arms for two and a half weeks, and the charity which runs the vessel, Proactiva Open Arms, says that the situation on board is becoming increasingly difficult.

It is the latest of many vessels to be refused entry by the Italian authorities, with the country's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini saying that migrant boats won't land in Italy under his watch.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez made a first offer to the NGO vessel on Sunday, ordering the port of Algeciras to be made available for the Open Arms.

But the charity said that the port - 1,800 kilometres, or some five days' sail away - was too far away.

The situation aboard was "unmanageable" due to "frequent anxiety and panic attacks" and "cases of rioting" among the 107 migrant passengers, according to the ship's captain.

The closest Spanish ports - on the Balearic islands of Menorca and Mallorca - are more than 1,000 kilometres from where the Open Arms is currently anchored, off the coast of Lampedusa.

Proactiva Open Arms said that Italy and Spain should provide the "necessary supplies" if the Open Arms was going to have to stay at sea for longer.

On Saturday, Italy accepted 27 people from the ship, mostly minors, but refused to take in the rest.

EU acclaims Spain's action

The European Commission welcomed Spain's offer to allow Open Arms to disembark.

"This is a humanitarian imperative," commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud said, calling on member states and rescue organizations to work together.

The EU's executive was ready to coordinate the relocation of migrants once they had disembarked, she said, adding that contacts were ongoing with several member states.

The commission has also raised the fate of a second migrant vessel, the Ocean Viking, in its discussions with EU capitals, Bertaud said.
Salvini has said he would shut Italian ports to the Ocean Viking, which is stranded between Lampedusa and Malta with 356 migrants on board.

On Sunday, EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos praised Spain for its show of solidarity.

"We hope on seeing the same spirit of solidarity for the migrants on board the Ocean Viking," he wrote on Twitter.

Dead and Missing Migrants in 2018