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Rescue vessel with 300 migrants on board reaches Spain

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Rescue vessel with 300 migrants on board reaches Spain
The Open Arms rescue vessel arriving in the Spanish port of Algeciras on December 28th 2018. Photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP.
09:08 CET+01:00
A Spanish charity rescue boat was nearing a southern Spanish port Friday morning carrying more than 300 migrants rescued off the coast of Libya a week ago.

A charity rescue boat carrying 311 mainly African migrants rescued off Libya entered Spanish waters Friday morning and was set to berth in a southern port near Gibraltar.

Proactiva Open Arms, the Spanish charity which runs the Open Arms vessel said the migrants – who include pregnant women, children and babies – were mainly from Somalia, Nigeria and Mali.

The ship will dock in the port of Crinavis, in San Roque, near the city of Algeciras.

"Good morning, Open Arms is already in the Bay of Gibraltar and is steering towards the only port available to it in the Mediterranean. Mission accomplished," tweeted the charity's founder Oscar Camps.

The migrants were rescued on December 21 from three vessels but were denied entry by Italy and Malta. Libya, France and Tunisia did not respond to Proactiva Open Arms' requests for permission to dock, Madrid said.

On Saturday, a newborn baby and his mother were helicoptered from the boat to Malta, while a 14-year-old suffering from a serious skin infection was taken to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Photos and videos posted by the charity showed the rest of the rescued migrants marking Christmas at sea listening to music and singing. Some children wore red Santa hats as they huddled together on the small rescue ship. 

Police will identify the migrants before moving them to shelters. Another ship operated by Proactiva Open Arms, the Astral, on Monday delivered blankets, medicine and food to the Open Arms.

Spain new entry point 

Proactiva Open Arms operates in the sea between Libya and southern Europe, coming to the aid of migrants who get into difficulties during the crossing from northern Africa.

In August it had suspended its missions, accusing governments, and Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini by name, of "criminalising" migrant rescue charities. It will be the first time since August that Spain has allowed a charity rescue ship to dock and disembark migrants in the country.

Salvini has denied the groups access to Italy's ports, accusing them of acting as a "taxi service" for migrants. Malta too has been increasingly unwilling to host rescue vessels.

"Your rhetoric and your message will, like everything in this life, end," Proactiva Open Arms' founder Oscar Camps told Salvini on Twitter earlier this week. "But you should know that in a few decades your descendants will be ashamed of what you do and say."

Most deadly route

Friday's docking will be the first time since August that Spain has allowed a charity rescue ship to dock and allow migrants to disembark in the country. Sanchez made international headlines shortly after he arrived in power in June by helping a French charity rescue ship, the Aquarius.

He cleared it to dock in the eastern port of Valencia with over 600 migrants on board, after it had been turned away by Italy and Malta, as tensions mounted in Europe over migration policy.

Madrid then allowed the Open Arms to dock three times in July and August but then refused to let the Aquarius back a second time. Instead, they negotiated the distribution of the migrants it had rescued among several European Union member states.

READ ALSO: Spanish PM Sanchez visits troops in Mali as six-year military engagement drags on

More than 1,300 migrants have perished trying to reach Italy or Malta since the beginning of the year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). That makes this stretch of the Mediterranean the most deadly for migrants attempting the crossing to Europe.

Spain meanwhile has become Europe's main entry point for migrants this year, overtaking Greece and Italy. More 56,000 migrants have arrived in Spain by sea this year, and 769 have died trying, according to the IOM.

READ MORE: FOCUS: Migrants keep crossing Strait of Gibraltar despite bad weather

 
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