France has agreed to accept some of the 630 migrants from 26 countries rescued by the MV Aquarius following an international spat between French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian authorities which led to Spain agreeing to take them in.
Among them are 450 adult men and 80 women -- including at least seven pregnant women -- as well as 11 under-13s and 93 adolescents, according to figures released by authorities in Valencia. -AFP
After Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini refused to accept the NGO vessel packed with shipwrecked immigrants, Macron said that Italy was "playing politics" with the migrants, and that the Italian government had displayed "cynicism and irresponsibility."
Mr Macron's spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said the French president recalled that "in cases of distress, those with the nearest coastline have a responsibility to respond".
"There is a degree of cynicism and irresponsibility in the Italian government's behaviour," he quoted President Macron as saying. -BBC
Rome wasn't having any of Macron's rhetoric - as Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte shot back - accusing Macron of being hypocritical, cynical and rigid.
"The statements around the Aquarius affair that come from France are surprising and show a serious lack of knowledge about what is really happening. Italy can not accept hypocritical lessons from countries that have always preferred to turn their backs when it comes to immigration," Conte's office said.
After Italy closed their ports to the migrants and nearby Malta refused to take them in as well, Spain agreed to take the North Africans - who were escorted by the Italian Navy to Valencia.
The ship is making the 1,500-kilometre (930-mile) voyage to Spain accompanied by Italian coast guard vessels, which have taken on board some of the migrants.
High waves and winds forced the convoy to take a detour on the way, but the first migrants are expected to land in Valencia between 6am (0400 GMT) and 12pm (1000 GMT) on Sunday. -AFP
And after several days of discussions, Madrid announced on Saturday that it had accepted France's offer to take in some of the 630 shipwrecked migrants.
"The French government will work together with the Spanish government to handle the arrival of the migrants", said Spain's deputy prime minister, Carmen Calvo.
"France will accept migrants who express the wish to go there" once they have been processed in Valencia, a statement said.
Spain's Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, thanked Macron for his gesture, saying it was "exactly the kind of cooperation Europe needs" at this hour.
In Valencia, preparations were underway to welcome the worn-out travellers after their long ordeal. A huge banner was put up at the port saying "Welcome home" in various languages including Catalan, the local language, and Arab. -AFP
Following the international spat, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte met to discuss the situation - agreeing that the EU should set up asylum processing centers in Africa to avoid the "voyages of death."
629 people on rescue ship #Aquarius stranded at sea, Italy & Malta refused to accept them. EU rules put uneven burden on some countries to help newly arrived #refugees. But it doesnít have to be this way. Tell EU leaders to stop playing with human lives https://t.co/lHc8YtrRGh pic.twitter.com/Kfx4vnAeGtó Fotis Filippou (@Fotis_Filippou) June 16, 2018
Italy's Matteo Salvini however warned that any other NGO operated rescue ships would be similarly banned from docking in Italy.
"While the Aquarius is sailing towards Spain, two other Dutch NGO operated vessels (Lifeline and Seefuchs) have arrived off the Libyan coast, to wait for their human cargos once the people smugglers abandon them," Salvini said in a Facebook post.
"These people should know that Italy no longer wants to be any part of this business of clandestine immigration and they will have to look for other ports to go to," he said.
"As minister and as a father, I take this action for the benefit of all," he added.
Merkel needs help...
German Chancellor Anngela Merkel says she will ask France to help diffuse a domestic crisis brewing in Germany over migration, amid fears that the EU will unravel unless member states adopt a mutual immigration policy.
At a regular meeting of their joint Cabinets on Tuesday, Germany will seek the support of French President Emmanuel Macron to find a common EU response for managing an influx of refugees, Merkel said Saturday in a weekly podcast. The stakes for the EU are high, she said.
Emmanuel Macron and Angela MerkelPhotographer: Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg
A dispute in Merkelís coalition over migration policy has escalated into one of the biggest tests of her chancellorship, while the populist government that took over in Italy this month has blocked refugee vessels from entering Italian ports. -Bloomberg
Coordinating an EU-wide response is "in my view one of the most decisive issues for European unity," said Merkel, adding that the influx of migrants is "a European challenge that requires a European answer."
Hmm, we seem to recall it was mostly Merkel's idea.
Bavaria's Prime Minister Markus Soeder disagreed in a June 14 Bild Zeitung interview - saying that a European solution "doesn't convince me," and that the move would mean "the majority of asylum seekers who come to Europe make their way to Germany."
From January to May, about 78,000 people sought asylum in Germany compared with 90,000 a year ago, the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper said Saturday, citing Interior Ministry data. About a fifth of the refugees in Germany this year were registered in other EU states and would have been turned away were rules in force sought by the CSU, the paper said. -Bloomberg
Around 49% of German voters surveyed by Die Welt said they either "definitely" or "sooner" place trust in German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer to solve the asylum crisis vs. 32% who trust Merkel's approach.