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‘Open Arms’ rejects offer to head for Spain as Salvini remains tough

Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has called on the migrant aid organisation Proactiva Open Arms to head for a Spanish port.

Published: August 20, 2019, 10:49 am

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    The Open Arms vessel is currently waiting with 107 immigrants on board off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa.

    “Why is the Open Arms not going to Spain? In 18 days, they would have traveled back and forth between Ibiza and Formentera three times,” Salvini told Rai Radio 1. “It’s a political struggle for them.”

    At the beginning of August, the crew took in around 160 immigrants in the Mediterranean during several days. There are currently 107 people on board, including two minors. Six countries, including Germany, have already signaled their willingness to accept immigrants.

    On Sunday, the Spanish organisation had turned down the offer to visit the Andalusian port of Algeciras. The crew justified this decision by blaming the precarious situation aboard the ship.

    Given the plight on board, the five- to six-day trip was “completely impracticable,” said Open Arms. The Madrid government dismissed reports on Monday that the ship could now head for the nearer port of Mallorca.

    According to the news agency Associated Press, the captain of the Spanish-speaking Open Arms, Marc Reig Creus, has meanwhile made another proposal with the migrants to be housed on a “more appropriate” ship and then taken to Algericas.

    Some two weeks ago, the organisation had rejected an offer from Malta, which wanted to take some of the migrants ashore. Maltese media cited the government response, saying that Open Arms had refused, as long as all migrants were not included.

    A spokesman for Proactiva Open Arms spoke of the “catastrophic conditions” aboard to the Italian media. The situation is explosive, and they had to separate the fighting migrants. “Should we wait until someone dies?” If the worst happens Europe and the Italian interior minister would be blamed, they said.

    The organisation said on Twitter, that some migrants had jumped into the water and tried to swim to Lampedusa. They were then brought back to the ship.

    Spanish migrant rescue NGO Open Arms on Monday suggested flying the migrants aboard its rescue ship off Lampedusa from Catania to Madrid.

    “To give the rescued migrants dignity they could transfer them to Catania and from there take them to Madrid by plane,” said Open Arms President Riccardo Gatti. Gatti was speaking to journalists in the port of Lampedusa.

    “Hiring a Boeing for 200 people comes to 240 euros per passenger,” he said. “The Acquarius solution, last year, for a coast guard ship cost 250 000 euros while the expenditure for the other ship was not even known”.

    Open Arms earlier said Italy and Spain should respect a reported deal and take the migrants to the safe port of Majorca.

    European Commission spokeswoman Natasha Bertaud called Monday for a solution to the two-week Open Arms NGO migrant rescue ship standoff with Italy to enable an immediate landing of the 130 or so migrants.

    “We appeal to member States and NGOs to collaborate to find a solution that works and permits an immediate disembarkation of the people on board”, she said. She stressed, however, that the EC does not have competence regarding landing ports.

    Bertaud also said that Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos had contacted member States in the last few days also about another NGO run migrant rescue ships, the Ocean Viking of SOS Mediterranée and Doctors without Borders, which has 356 migrants aboard.

    Like the Open Arms, it has been banned from Italy’s ports by Interior Minister Salvini.

    The Italian Minister of Infrastructure and Transport Danilo Toninelli announced on social media that the Italian Coast Guard will make the next move. “We made available the Coast Guard to accompany the Open Arms to Spain, to offer technical support and to transport part of the migrants aboard one of our boats for the trip.”

    The 107 migrants on board the Open Arms, therefore, will not take a plane as originally requested, but will be taken to Spain by Italian ships.

    “The NGO has astonishingly refused [to be escorted to Spain by the Coast Guard, ed], with an attitude that makes us suspect there is bad faith on their part,” Toninelli continued.

    “At this point we will take another step forward: we are available to bring, with our Coast Guard, to the Iberian port all migrants which are on board the Open Arms. However, Spain will first have to take a step forward and immediately remove its flag from the NGO ship”.

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