Boat Caught in Europe's Migration Spat Brings Hundreds to Spain


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

The first migrants to arrive came on an Italian coast guard ship, which took aboard 274 of the Aquarius's passengers to make the journey safer.

The Aquarius, run by French charity SOS Mediterranée, rescued them off Libya's coast on 9 Juneand Italy and Malta's refusal to let the ship dock led to an worldwide outcry before Spain stepped in to help.

The migrants were met by emergency workers, health officials, Red Cross volunteers and psychologists at the city's marina.

Almost half of the 630 migrants from the rescue boat Aquarius want to seek asylum in France, the Spanish government said Monday.

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"I would say it's been the most intense week of my life", Corral said after spending eight days on the humanitarian rescue vessel Aquarius that rescued 629 people, mainly from sub-Saharan African countries, off the coast of Libya. "(The EU) must recognize that it needs an immigration policy that these times require".

David Beversluis, the chief Doctors Without Borders physician on the Aquarius, said several of the rescued women were victims of sexual violence and rape.

The boatload of migrants that was forced to spend days crossing the western Mediterranean includes 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children and as many as seven pregnant women, according to Valencia's regional authorities.

The ship's predicament gave Italy's new government the chance to assert its anti-immigrant credentials, and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, in office for just over a week, took the opportunity to underline a more liberal stance.

"We were aware that something "exceptional" could happen since the Aquarius had left to rescue migrants, but we never thought of something like this", Corral said.

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Speaking Sunday on CNews, Le Pen says people seeking asylum in France could have gone to Tunisia or Algeria and she worries the government's decision on the Aquarius passengers will attract more migrant boats.

They also demanded "profound" changes to the European Union asylum rules which put the migrant burden on their country of entry to Europe - mainly Italy and Greece.

The first migrant was a 29-year-old man from South Sudan.

Madrid on Saturday said it had accepted an offer from France - who had angered Rome by branding it irresponsible - to welcome Aquarius migrants who "meet the criteria for asylum". The issue has put strong domestic pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, created a spat between France and Italy, and prompted eastern nations like Hungary and Poland to refuse to take in any migrants.

The warmer weather has caused a spike in migration from North Africa to Europe.

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The Aquarius, operated by Doctors Without Borders and SOS Mediterranee Sea, and another Italian government boat with migrants will dock in Valencia in the next few hours.