Spain offers ports to stranded migrant boat but chastises Italy


MADRID/LAMPEDUSA (Reuters) – Spain on Monday repeated its offer to allow 107 migrants stranded for more than two weeks in the Mediterranean to land in a Spanish port but it criticized Italy for barring them from coming ashore on an Italian island.

Spanish migrant rescue ship Open Arms is seen close to the Italian shore in Lampedusa, Italy August 19, 2019. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane

The Spanish charity and rescue ship Open Arms said earlier on Monday that Madrid and Rome appeared to have struck a deal for the migrants to disembark on Spain’s Mallorca island, but the Spanish government denied reaching any such agreement.

“The only correct information is that the Spanish government had offered to Open Arms to head for the nearest Spanish port and that the Italian government is infringing the law by preventing the migrants from disembarking in Lampedusa,” the government said in a statement.

The migrants, most of them African, have been stuck onboard the Open Arms near the Italian island of Lampedusa for 18 days after Italy’s right-wing interior minister, Matteo Salvini, ordered officials not to let them disembark. He allowed 27 minors to leave the boat on Saturday.

The Spanish government said it had not received a clear answer from Open Arms on how it would like to proceed.

Acting vice-premier Carmen Calvo also told Cadena Ser radio that the government had “spent the whole weekend talking to the Italian government, asking them to respond”.

Open Arms has said any need for a further journey away from Lampedusa was “incomprehensible” given the deteriorating conditions on the ship.

A journey to Mallorca would add another three days to what has been a trying situation. Menorca – the first Spanish island along the route to Spain is only slightly closer.

Spain had initially proposed the mainland port of Algeciras, to Open Arms, subsequently offering Menorca and Mallorca after concerns were raised about the much longer distance the boat would have to travel.

Carmelo La Magra, a priest in Lampedusa who has been working with migrants there, said every extra day spent on the ship “is like an extension of a torture”.

“These are political games, maybe a show of power but what is worse is that this is done on the backs of these poor and vulnerable people,” he said.

But Salvini wrote in a comment on social media that he was “not giving up!” on his closed ports stance.

Reporting by Jose Elías Rodríguez and Andrés González and Belen Carreno in Madrid, Guglielmo Mangiapane in Lampedusa, writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Angus MacSwan

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