The Proactiva Open Arms is a migrant rescue vessel that operates in the Mediterranean | Photo: picture-alliance/O. Calvo
The Proactiva Open Arms is a migrant rescue vessel that operates in the Mediterranean | Photo: picture-alliance/O. Calvo

A rescue boat with 311 migrants on board who were saved off the Libyan coast has arrived in Spain after repeatedly being denied entry by Italy and Malta. Libya, France and Tunisia also failed to respond to requests for permission to dock.

The Proactiva Open Arms rescue vessel docked in the port of Crinavis in San Roque, which is located on the Bay of Gibraltar, on Friday morning. According to news agency AFP, the vessel carried migrants from the African continent, including pregnant women, children and babies from Somalia, Nigeria and Mali. It was the first time since August 2018 that Spain allowed a charity rescue ship to dock and unload migrants.

Proactiva, the Spanish charity which runs the Open Arms, said that the migrants were rescued on December 21 from three vessels of the Libyan coast. The organization said that the boat's requests to dock were ignored by Libya, France and Tunisia and denied by Italy and Malta. Only a newborn baby and his mother were allowed to be helicoptered from the boat to Malta, and a 14-year-old suffering from a serious skin infection was taken to the Italian island of Lampedusa on the day after their rescue at sea.

Christmas on deck

In a video shared on the Proactiva Open Arms Twitter account, migrants can be seen waiting to disembark from the vessel at Crinavis port. Police will run identity checks on the migrants before moving them to shelters.

In earlier social media clips, the charity showed how migrants aboard the ship celebrated Christmas at sea, singing and clapping while wearing Santa hats.

War of words with Salvini

The Proactiva Open Arms had temporarily suspended its rescue missions from August to November after their requests to dock where repeatedly refused by Italy. The charity has accused the Italian government of "criminalizing" migrant rescue charities by rejecting them. Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini reacted to the accusations by calling Proactiva a "taxi service" for migrants at sea.

The Maltese government has also been increasingly unwilling to host rescue vessels. Because of this, private rescue boats now often dock in Spain. More than 56,000 migrants have arrived in Spain by sea this year alone, making the country Europe's main entry point for migrants this year, overtaking Greece and Italy.


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