Migrant rescue boat arrives in Spain after rejection by Italy and Malta

The Open Arms rescue boat run by the Spanish Proactiva Open Arms charity, arrives to port carrying migrants rescued off Libya. (Reuters pic)

MADRID: A humanitarian rescue boat carrying 60 migrants rescued off Libya docked in Barcelona on Wednesday after being turned away by Malta and Italy, in the latest example of European divisions on immigration.

Spain’s new Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, had offered for the second time in a month to take in migrants rejected by Italy and Malta, which were both closer.

Irregular immigration across the Mediterranean has fallen dramatically, with about 45,000 people making it to Europe across the sea this year compared to over a million in 2015, but politically it has become ever more divisive.

Last week, European Union states agreed to tighten their external borders and spend more in the Middle East and North Africa to bring down the number of migrants and to set up new centres to handle new arrivals.

In a video tweeted by a crew member, men, women and children sang and cheered as the rescue ship Open Arms, operated by the Spanish charity ProActiva Open Arms, arrived in Barcelona’s busy port to dock alongside cruise and cargo ships.

Last month, Spain had accepted 629 migrants on another charity rescue boat, the Aquarius.

Barcelona mayor Ada Colau tweeted that Wednesday’s arrivals “could have died, but they are alive”

“This is the Mediterranean Sea and Europe we want, where life is celebrated and protected,” she added.

The migrants, including five women and four children, are of various nationalities, including Palestinians, Syrians and Guineans. They received medical attention before being processed by police.

Most Spaniards are in favour of welcoming and helping to integrate refugees, and feel that their previous, conservative government did not do enough, pollsters say.