Migrants on board the Open Arms ship | Photo: Imago Images
Migrants on board the Open Arms ship | Photo: Imago Images

The migrant rescue charity 'Open Arms' has rejected a Spanish government offer for its vessel to dock at a Balearic Island port. It was the second offer the group rejected, citing an "urgent" and "inhumane" situation.

Spanish aid organization Proactiva Open Arms criticized the Spanish government's offer to dock at ports on the Balearic islands of Menorca and Mallorca.

The NGO operating the Open Arms vessel — carrying 107 migrants and stranded off the coast of Lampedusa — rejected the offer to welcome the migrants in either Mallorca or Menorca. It cited the precarious psychological state of the migrants and the restrictions of the small ship.

"After 18 days of deadlock, Italy and Spain seem to have reached an agreement designating Mallorca as a landing port. This decision seems totally incomprehensible to us," Proactiva Open Arms said in a statement.

"While our boat is 800 meters (roughly half a mile) off the coast of Lampedusa, European states are asking a small NGO like ours to face... three days of sailing in harsh weather conditions," it added.

Read more:  Libya's coast guard rescues over 270 Europe-bound migrants

Algeciras too far to go

The Spanish government denied the existence of an agreement with Italy, and said the NGO had not given a "clear and direct reply" to its Mallorca offer.

The closest Spanish ports on Menorca and Mallorca are more than 1,000 kilometers from where the vessel the Open Arms is currently anchored off the coast of Lampedusa.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez had initially invited the migrant rescue ship to dock at the port city of Algeciras, in the south of Spain near Gibraltar on Sunday.

The aid organization rejected that offer, saying Algeciras, which was 1,800 kilometers — or five days' sail away — was too far to go.

The Open Arms picked up the migrants, most of whom are African, off the coast of Lampedusa and has been waiting for 18 days in the hopes of disembarking there.

A migrant is comforted by a crew member of the Open Arms Spanish humanitarian boat off the coast of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa southern Italy  Photo Picture-allianceAP PhotosFGentico

Act of desperation

The situation aboard the ship is becoming "unmanageable" because of "frequent anxiety and panic attacks" and "cases of rioting" among the 107 migrant passengers, according to the ship's captain, Oscar Camps.

The captain also tweeted a video of four migrants jumping off the ship in orange life vests in an attempt to swim to Lampedusa on Sunday.

Several crew members of the ship swam after them and brought them back onto the vessel. "We have been warning for days; desperation has its limits," said Camps.

'Inconceivable decision' by Italy

Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini had ordered his officials not to let the migrants dock. He did make a partial concession on Saturday by allowing 27 minors to leave the vessel but refused to take the rest.

The Spanish government spoke of what it called Italy's "inconceivable decision" to close all its ports to migrants.

Sanchez said that "it is necessary to establish a European, orderly and caring solution, tackling the migration challenge with the values of progress and humanism."

Earlier this week, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal and Romania also offered to take in some of the migrants following their disembarkation.

mc/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters, AP)

First published: August 19, 2019

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