Spain Rebukes Salvini, Offers to Take ‘Open Arms’ Migrants


Photographer: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

Spain’s government will make available the southern port of Algeciras to receive the migrant rescue ship Open Arms given the refusal by Italy to allow it to dock.

Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is taking the step given the “emergency situation” facing the Spanish vessel with more than 100 migrants off the Italian island of Lampedusa, his government said in an emailed statement Sunday.

“The inconceivable reply from the Italian authorities, and specifically of the Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, to close their ports, and the difficulties expressed by other countries in the central Mediterranean have led Spain to once again lead the reply to a humanitarian crisis,” the government said.

“Good,” Salvini, said on Twitter, in response to the news that Spain is readying a port to take Open Arms. “He who perseveres, wins.”

Sanchez has pushed for European Union nations to share the task of taking on African migrants abandoned in the Mediterranean. In June last year, he allowed vessels carrying 629 migrants to dock in Valencia after Italy and then Malta refused entry.

Salvini himself has used the standoff over the Open Arms to play the anti-immigration champion as the League Party leader starts a push for new elections that could see him leading the next government in Italy. A vote to dissolve the government could come as soon as Tuesday.

For Sanchez, the migrant issue is an opportunity to show his humanitarian credentials as he seeks to form a government. He lost twin votes in parliament last month for him to form a new administration after his Socialist party emerged from general elections in April with the most seats but short of an overall majority.

Spain’s ports are neither the nearest or safest for the migrants of Open Arms, the government said. “At the moment, Spain is the only country disposed to receive them under a European solution,” it said.

Spain’s maritime rescue services have picked up 60,000 people from the sea in 2018 and 2019, the government said. “Spain is by far the European Union country that makes most rescues from the Mediterranean.”

Open Arms founder Oscar Camps questioned the feasibility of Spain’s offer, after waiting 17 days to dispach 134 people on board.

“Do you want us to sail 950 miles, for another five days, to Algeciras, the furthest port in the Mediterranean, with an unsustainable situation on board?” he tweeted on Sunday.

( Updates with background on the situation from fifth paragraph.)