17th February 2019
Open Arms
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Rescue boat with over 300 migrants reaches Spain

A charity rescue boat carrying 311 mainly African migrants plucked off Libya docked in Spain on Friday, ending a traumatic journey which saw them spending Christmas at sea and several European nations denying the vessel entry.

Proactiva Open Arms, the Spanish charity which runs the Open Arms vessel said the migrants – who include pregnant women, children and babies – were mainly from Somalia, Nigeria and Mali.

The ship docked in the port of Crinavis, in San Roque, near the city of Algeciras.

‘Good morning, Open Arms is already in the Bay of Gibraltar and is steering towards the only port available to it in the Mediterranean. Mission accomplished,’ tweeted the charity’s founder Oscar Camps.

‘These are people, both children and adults, who have had really horrible experiences in both their countries of origin and during their journey,’ said Vicente Raimundo, the director of intervention in Spain for the NGO Save The Children.

He said some of the 139 children aboard came ‘from countries at war such as Somalia and Syria’.

The migrants started disembarking at around 10:30 am, with children and women getting off first. They were met by Red Cross officials who gave them clothes and food and conducted medical tests if required.

Police will identify the migrants before moving them to shelters.

The migrants were rescued on 21 December from three vessels but were denied entry by Italy and Malta. Libya, France and Tunisia did not respond to Proactiva Open Arms’ requests for permission to dock, Madrid said.

Open Arms
The ship of Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms arrives in the port of Algeciras near San Roque, with 311 migrants on board, on 28 December 2018. (Jorge Guerrero / AFP)

On Saturday, a newborn baby and his mother were helicoptered from the boat to Malta, while a 14-year-old suffering from a serious skin infection was taken to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

ALSO READ: Bad weather no deterrent to migrants crossing Strait of Gibraltar

Photos and videos posted by the charity showed the rest of the rescued migrants marking Christmas at sea listening to music and singing. Some children wore red Santa hats as they huddled together on the small rescue ship.

Police will identify the migrants before moving them to shelters.

Spain new entry point

Proactiva Open Arms operates in the sea between Libya and southern Europe, coming to the aid of migrants who get into difficulties during the crossing from northern Africa.

ALSO READ: Twelve migrants found dead in boat off Spain

It will be the first time since August that Spain has allowed a charity rescue ship to dock and unload migrants in the country.

The Open Arms resumed its patrols of the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast in late November, along with two other boats run by migrant aid groups.

In August it had suspended its missions, accusing governments, and Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini by name, of ‘criminalising’ migrant rescue charities.

Salvini has denied the groups access to Italy’s ports, accusing them of acting as a ‘taxi service’ for migrants. Malta too has been increasingly unwilling to host rescue vessels.

ALSO READ: Migrants cross Strait of Gibraltar on lorry tyre

‘Your rhetoric and your message will, like everything in this life, end,’ Proactiva Open Arms’ founder Camps told Salvini on Twitter earlier.

‘But you should know that in a few decades your descendants will be ashamed of what you do and say.’

More than 1,300 migrants have perished trying to reach Italy or Malta since the beginning of the year, according to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

That makes this stretch of the Mediterranean the most deadly for migrants attempting the crossing to Europe.

Spain meanwhile has become Europe’s main entry point for migrants this year, overtaking Greece and Italy.

More 56,000 migrants have arrived in Spain by sea this year, and 769 have died trying, according to the IOM.

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