Catalan premier Quim Torra on Tuesday offered three ports for the disembarkation of the 141 migrants currently on the Aquarius rescue ship, after the vessel was once again refused permission to dock by the authorities of nearby countries. The NGO-run Aquarius rescued the would-be immigrants off the coast of Libya last Friday, but is currently still at sea.
In June, the vessel was granted permission by the Spanish government to bring more than 600 migrants to the eastern port of Valencia. However, this time around no such invitation has yet been offered by Madrid.
Catalonia will always be a land that offers a warm welcome
Via Twitter, Catalan regional premier Torra said on Tuesday that he had called on the regional ports authority to allow the ship to dock in either Palamós (Girona), Vilanova i la Geltrú (Barcelona) or Sant Carles de la Ràpita (Tarragona). “Catalonia will always be a land that offers a warm welcome,” he added in his post.
Torra’s proposal comes a day after Barcelona City Hall offered to take in the migrants, also requesting that the central government – which is in charge of matters of immigration – grant temporary permits for the 141 people on board. Shortly after Torra’s message was posted, the regional head of Social Affairs in Catalonia, Chakir El Homrani, wrote on the social networks: “People come first, saving lives comes first.”
But for now, the administration of Socialist Party (PSOE) Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is not willing to take in the vessel, as it did in June when it accepted the migrants the Aquarius had on board. This time around, sources from La Moncloa prime ministerial palace say, the situation is different. In June, the ship was carrying 630 people, above its capacity of 550. This time the figure is much lower. “Spain is not the safest port because it isn’t the closest port, according to what is laid out in international law,” government sources said on Monday.
The Spanish government is holding “intense negotiations” with the European Commission and “other countries” to offer a “common response”
The Spanish government is holding “intense negotiations” with the European Commission and “other countries” to offer a “common response” to the migrants rescued by the Aquarius, according to sources from La Moncloa. The same sources said that the government of Pedro Sánchez is hoping that an agreed solution “is reached as soon as possible.” The government believes it will reach a deal “in the next few hours,” with its position shared by Germany, France and Portugal.
The Aquarius is currently anchored in the Mediterranean between Malta and Italy, according to the logbook published by the NGOs that operate the vessel. As happened in June, both those countries have refused to offer safe port to the ship.
Among the migrants on board, many are adolescents and the majority come from particularly conflictive countries, such as Eritrea and Somalia. More than half of the migrants are under the age of 18. A total of 67 are minors who are traveling alone or with other minors, with no adult companion, according to the team from Doctors Without Borders that has been treating them.