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Spain makes deal with EU countries to take in 60 migrants from ‘Aquarius’

The NGO rescue ship has been seeking a safe port since it picked up 141 people off the coast of Libya on Friday

The ‘Aquarius’ rescue ship in a file photo.
The ‘Aquarius’ rescue ship in a file photo. AFP

Six countries from the European Union have reached an agreement to take in the 141 migrants that are currently on board the Aquarius NGO rescue ship, as well as a further 100 that have also been picked up in the Mediterranean, Spanish government sources have announced.

As in June, the Aquarius has been seeking a safe port since rescuing the 141 migrants off the coast of Libya

Under the deal, Spain will take in a total of 60 people, while France will take in 60, Portugal 30, Germany 50 and Luxembourg five.

The Aquarius is currently in international waters, 32 miles from the coast of Italy and 32 miles from Malta. After initially rejecting the ship, Malta announced that it had agreed to allow “the ship to enter, despite having no legal obligation to do so,” and provide a logistical base for the distribution of the migrants. While it called the decision an “exercise in shared responsibility,” the country has also negotiated to have 60 of 114 migrants rescued from its seas on Monday redistributed among the six European countries.

This joint solution was being sought by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, whose Socialist Party (PSOE) government agreed to take in more than 600 migrants who were on board the Aquarius in June, a decision that drew praise among certain sectors at home, but criticism from countries such as Italy, who said the move was encouraging “out-of-control immigration.”

As in June, the Aquarius has been seeking a safe port since rescuing the 141 migrants off the coast of Libya, after both nearby Italy and Malta refused permission for the vessel to dock.

This morning has seen a flurry of high-level conversations in order to reach this deal between the six countries in question

After taking in the migrants two months ago, the Spanish government said that it was not trying to set a precedent, but rather to give other European countries a wake-up call so that from now on joint decisions are taken on the matter.

Tuesday morning saw a flurry of high-level conversations in order to reach this deal between the six countries in question. Prime Minister Sánchez spent the weekend in talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Spain, and this issue – the need to distribute the migrants who arrive on the coasts of southern Europe – was the key element of their conversations. The major problem continues to be the fact that a majority of European countries are in the hands of parties who outright reject such a joint solution.

Almost half of the migrants currently on board the Aquarius are unaccompanied minors, and two-thirds are from Eritrea and Somalia.

Earlier on Tuesday, Catalan premier Quim Torra had offered three safe ports in the region for the Aquarius to dock. On Monday, Barcelona City Hall had offered to take in the migrants. However, decisions on such issues of immigration fall to the central government in Madrid, which on Monday was ruling out offering safe port to the Aquarius as it had in June.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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