Rescue ships dock in Spain as migrant debate roils Europe

The Lifeline ship started its rescue mission in September 2017

The first of three ships transporting the group, an Italian coast guard vessel called the Datillo, pulled into Valencia harbour just before 6:30 am local time with 274 migrants on board, according to the Red Cross.

They were welcomed by a team of more than 2,000 people, including 470 translators and 1,000 Red Cross volunteers who distributed blankets, clothes and hygiene kits.

Valencia emergency official Jorge Suarez said some of the migrants were in a state of shock.

But Malta also refused, prompting Spain to step in and offer to take in the migrants. The 1,500-kilometer (930-mile) journey across the Mediterranean from Sicily to Valencia took almost a week.

The total number of migrants being transported was 630.

"They should know that Italy no longer wants to be an accomplice in the business of illegal immigration and therefore they will have to aim for other, non-Italian, ports", Salvini said.

"People were threatening to jump into the water (during) the standoff between Italy and Malta, because they were scared and said if we have to die we'd rather die at sea than in Libya".

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An Italian naval vessel is due to bring the remaining migrants into port later in the morning.

Migrants arrived here with nothing, Corral said. The passengers came from a series of rescues in recent days, including ones carried out by cargo ships that Italy's Rome-based search-and-rescue coordination center asked to aid migrant boats in distress. Some of the migrants were transferred from the Aquarius to the two Italian boats.

Spain eventually stepped in and agreed to receive the refugees as a "political gesture" to "oblige Europe to forge a common policy to a common problem", Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said.

Under the EU's asylum laws - now the subject of a major political dispute and under revision - migrants must apply for asylum in the country where they first enter Europe.

Spain's new socialist government said in a statement: "Almost half the migrants have expressed their willingness to seek asylum in France, which offered to take in some of the people travelling on the ship". The issue has put strong domestic pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel, created a spat between France and Italy, and prompted eastern nations like Hungary and Poland to refuse to take in any migrants.

"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 wrote on Facebook.

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