Spain rescues more than 900 boat migrants, finds 4 bodies

Aquarius Migrants Head for Spain After Being Denied Entry by Italy

The Aquarius - run by SOS Mediterranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) - is one of only three NGO vessels still carrying out rescue operations off the coast of Libya, still the main transit country for migrants hoping to get to Europe from sub-Saharan Africa.

Far fewer migrants have arrived in Spain, but the number is rising fast, with more than 1,000 rescued by Spain's coast guard on Friday and Saturday.

Hundreds of migrants pulled from the Mediterranean by a rescue ship arrived at the Spanish port of Valencia on Sunday, ending a grueling nine-day voyage but leaving wide open a fierce debate in Europe over how to handle immigration.

As it neared port, those on board had danced and sang, their excitement captured in footage released on Twitter by SOS Mediterranee which operates the vessel together with Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

In this file photo taken on May 10, 2018 migrants stand on the deck of the French NGO's ship Aquarius, as it approaches the Italian coast.

Shouts and singing erupted on the ship as the migrants on board saw Valencia on the horizon, Spanish journalist Gabriela Sanchez tweeted from another boat traveling alongside it.

High waves and winds forced the convoy to take a detour on the way, but the first migrants are expected to land in Valencia between 6am (0400 GMT) and 12pm (1000 GMT) on Sunday.

Valencia: The head of the Red Cross urged European Union member states Sunday to follow Spain's example of welcoming a rejected migrant ship and "put into practice" the humanitarian values promoted by the bloc.

"France will accept migrants who express the wish to go there" once they have been processed in Valencia, a statement said.


The seven pregnant women on board the ships are to be immediately taken for check-ups, and all the arrivals, including 123 minors, will receive psychological help, Spanish Red Cross officials said.

The migrants came 26 countries.

A diplomatic spat erupted between Malta and Italy this week, after Italys new home affairs minister Matteo Salvini closed the country's ports to the Aquarius and demanded that Malta take them in on the grounds that the ship was closer to the island than to Italy.

Jose Luis Abalos says "Spain will act with sensitivity and at the same time within the law, and with a message to Europe that it doesn't have an immigration policy up to the challenge at hand".

More than 600,000 migrants have made the crossing from Libya to Italy in the past four years, and Salvini's stance reflects frustration that the rest of Europe refuses to take its share of arrivals.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez meanwhile thanked French President Emmanuel Macron for his gesture, saying it was "exactly the kind of cooperation Europe needs" at this hour. Spanish officials plan to do a case-by-case analysis of the migrants' requests for asylum.

Italy's interior minister has sparked a new migration crisis in the Mediterranean by barring two rescue boats from bringing refugees to shore, a week after the Aquarius was prevented from docking.

Every migrant "will know if he has refugee status, if he is an economic migrant, and also, indeed, if he is guilty of certain offenses that make him liable to expulsion", she said.

However, 42 migrants rescued this week by a USA ship off Libya before being transferred to an Italian coastguard vessel already carrying 500 migrants would be allowed to land in Italy, media reported in Rome on Sunday. It also recovered four bodies and declared another 43 people missing at sea.

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