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Spain refuses docking to migrant rescue boat

June 25, 2018

Spain says it will not accept the Lifeline rescue boat left stranded in the Mediterranean after its rejection by Italy and Malta. This comes as German lawmakers describe the situation on the vessel as precarious.

Migrants standing at the bows of the Lifeline
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/H. Poschmann

Spanish Economic Development Minister Jose Luis Abalos said on Monday that his country would not offer docking to a NGO boat carrying some 230 migrants rescued at sea, saying Spain could not "become the sea rescue organization for all of Europe."

His remarks come after the boat, operated by German NGO Mission Lifeline, was turned away by both Italy and Malta, with German lawmakers who have visited the stranded vessel speaking of worsening conditions on board, and a possible humanitarian emergency as weather conditions deteriorate.

Libya's coastguard said on Monday nearly a thousand people were rescued off its shores on Sunday.

Spanish authorities said 600 people had been picked up in coastal waters on Monday. 

Read more: Where do EU countries stand on migration?

Left in limbo

  • Italy closed its ports to Lifeline on Thursday, the second time it has rejected an NGO ship in recent weeks
  • Malta also disclaimed responsibility for the boat
  • Spain took in the first ship, the Aquarius, which was turned away by the two countries
  • A Danish cargo ship, the Alexander Maersk, carrying 108 migrants and stuck off Sicily since Saturday, has now been permitted to dock

Read more: By refusing entry to migrant rescue ship, Italy and Malta reveal legal shortcomings 

'At risk of their lives'

In his comments to Cadena Ser radio, Abalos said Spain could not "take on this responsibility alone."

He said Spain's acceptance of the Aquarius had aimed to draw attention to the problem of rescued migrants, but that a political solution was now needed.

German lawmaker Manuel Sarrazin of the Green party, who visited the Lifeline on Monday, told DPA news agency that "if the weather is bad, we will have an emergency situation." He described how people were "sitting packed together on board."

Fellow Green party official Luise Amtsberg called the hygiene and medical situation "precarious."

"The dispute over European jurisdiction should not be allowed to put people at risk of their lives," she said.

Read more: United Nations: 68.5 million people displaced in 2017

Europe divided: The problems faced by boats such as the Lifeline and the Aquarius highlight the ongoing dispute within the European Union on how best to deal with the influx of migrants wanting to come to Europe via the Mediterranean, often to escape conflict or poverty at home.

Why did Italy reject the Lifeline? Italy's new anti-immigration interior minister and deputy premier, Matteo Salvini, said the Lifeline had ignored orders from the Italian coast guard to leave the rescue of the migrants to the Libyan coast guard.

Why is Italy blocking migrants? Because of their geographic location and the so-called Dublin Regulation, Italy and other Mediterranean countries have borne the brunt of migrant movements in recent years. Salvini, from the anti-immigration Lega party that forms part of Italy's new government, has pledged to stop Italy becoming "Europe's refugee camp."  He stepped up his rhetoric even further on Monday during a visit to Libya, accusing NGOs rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean of being "taxi services" for Libya-based traffickers.

What is Mission Lifeline's view? The German NGO says that saving lives at sea is an international requirement and that returning migrants to Libya contravenes international law, as they could face human rights abuses there.

 tj/rt (dpa, epd)

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