By Stefan J. Bos
Italy has dispatched two ships to help take the 629 migrants stuck off its shores on the days-long voyage to Spain in what is forecast to be bad weather.
The Aquarius rescue ship picked up the migrants in the middle of the night from inflatable boats and rafts off the coast of Libya at the weekend.
It then took the desperate people, including 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children, and seven pregnant women, toward Italy.
But the country’s new, far-right Interior Minister barred it from docking and said it should go to Malta.
Italy's new populist government refuses the traumatized migrants safe port saying it wants to force Europe to share the burden of what it views as unrelenting arrivals.
Appealing for compassion
The aid group Doctors Without Borders, which operates the Aquarius with SOS Mediterranee, has appealed to both Italy and Malta to reconsider their refusal.
It urges them to allow the stranded migrants landfall and then safe passage by other means to Spain.
Aloys Vimard of Doctors Without Borders suggests that many passengers face severe health risks. "We have food and water enough to keep these people two to three days. But that is not what we wish. Because..it is overcrowded," he noted.
People are sleeping on the deck. It is not comfortable at all. They are weak, tired, exhausted," Vimard said, talking from the ship.
Provisions running out
The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR also said it was running out of provisions.
As the drama unfolded at sea, Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, who took office just over a week ago, allowed the boat to dock at the eastern port of Valencia.
Sanchez, a Socialist who toppled his conservative predecessor with a no-confidence vote following a corruption scandal, made his offer after the mayors of Valencia and Barcelona both offered to take the boat in at their ports
His office said in a statement that “It is our duty to help avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a safe port to these people, to comply with our human rights obligations.”
Pope Francis has also stressed that migrants should be welcomed, protected and integrated calling that crisis the most pressing humanitarian issue facing the international community.