Published: August 15, 2019
In a policy change, Spain is now willing to take in some of the migrants who have been stuck for 14 days on the Open Arms rescue ship in the central Mediterranean because of Italy and Malta’s refusal to grant access to their ports.
Until now, the Spanish government had resisted such a move on the basis that Spain is already under migratory pressure from Morocco, a departure point for many migrants trying to reach Europe.
But the deteriorating conditions on board the ship, and the fact that it is operated by a Spanish non-profit group, Proactiva Open Arms, have weighed on the decision to take in some of the 147 people who remain on the ship. Around 16 have already been evacuated to Italy for medical reasons. The migrants were rescued at sea after attempting the dangerous crossing from Libya.
Òscar Camps, founder of Proactiva Open Arms NGO, talks to reporters in Madrid. SERGIO PEREZ REUTERS
The executive of acting prime minister Pedro Sánchez, of the Socialist Party (PSOE), has agreed to participate in a migrant distribution scheme that is being coordinated by the European Commission. Up to three government sources said that an agreement is about to see the light, with the participation of several European countries.
The idea is for the potential asylum seekers to be distributed among at least 10 member states. Spain could be taking in slightly over 10%, these sources said.
France and Germany have also confirmed that they are in touch with EU institutions in a bid to resolve the latest migration crisis to hit the headlines. On Tuesday, France said it was in talks with Brussels to find a solution, and on Wednesday a source in the German executive told EL PAÍS that they were doing the same.
People demonstrating in Palma de Mallorca to demand a solution for the Open Arms. EUROPA PRESS
“We hope that the two private rescue ships, the Open Arms and the Ocean Viking, will soon be able to enter a port with the people they rescued at sea,” a German government spokesperson told this newspaper. “For that to be possible, Germany is willing in both cases to participate once again in a European distribution solution.” The Spanish plan only considers the Open Arms, not the Ocean Viking, which is stranded at sea with over 350 people aboard.
Although the Sánchez administration originally adopted an open-port attitude, unilaterally taking in hundreds of rescued migrants who had been rejected by Italy, this policy has changed in the last year. Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska has complained repeatedly in Brussels that migrants arriving through the central Mediterranean route cannot not be distributed across the EU while Spain is expected to unilaterally deal with all the arrivals through the western route.
The government’s newest position has been influenced by worsening conditions aboard the Open Arms and by domestic pressure – there has been a deluge of offers of help by Spanish regional and municipal authorities, and petitions asking Sánchez for a solution.
One of the last times that Spain found itself in a similar situation was in December 2018, when a dozen migrants were rescued by a Spanish fishing vessel called Nuestra Madre Loreto. Spanish authorities first instructed the captain to take the migrants back to Libya, but the ship finally docked in Malta under a pledge that Spain would take them in.
Just a few days after that, the Open Arms sailed into the Spanish port of Algeciras with 300 rescued migrants, and there was no distribution among EU countries. Since then, Madrid had refused to take charge of any more migrants rescued on the “Italian” route.
English version by Susana Urra. source