Spain rescues more than 900 boat migrants, finds four bodies

Matteo Salvini and the MSF boat Aquarius

Chartered by a French aid group, Aquarius rescued the migrants off Libya's coast last weekend.

The ship carried 629 people it had rescued off the coast of Libya and spent almost a week at sea as Italy's new government banned it from docking. Lifeline's crew helped transfer the migrants onto a Singapore-flagged merchant ship, the Viking Amber, and remained at sea as it usually does for any subsequent rescues, according to Lifeline co-founder Axel Steier. The journey to Valencia took almost a week.

Migrants sing on the deck of MV Aquarius, a search and rescue ship run in partnership between SOS Mediterranee and Medecins Sans Frontieres on their way to Spain, June 16, 2018.

"If global law asked for it to be our responsibility - just or unjust - I would have been the first one to order the boat to shore".

The head of Doctors Without Borders in Spain says he's glad that Spain has allowed an aid convoy with 630 migrants to dock but he's anxious about European nations closing their ports to those rescued at sea. Aid workers awaiting their arrival clapped and cheered as the first passengers walked down the gangway.

"Today is a historic day", said Father Angel Garcia Rodriguez, a well-known priest who heads the Messengers of Peace NGO which is helping migrants at the port.

"We are very grateful, because while some look the other way, in Spain these people are welcomed", he said at a news conference on Saturday while also praising MSF and SOS Mediterranee. "Put yourself in their position, you get off a ship and the first people who greet you are wearing masks".

The migrants could not hide their relief at seeing Valencia and shouts and singing erupted on board when they could see the Spanish city on the horizon, Spanish journalist Gabriela Sanchez tweeted.

Some of the rescued migrants aboard the Aquarius will be allowed to settle in France, Spain's deputy prime minister said Saturday.

Spain's offer, Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said, was a "political gesture" to "oblige Europe to forge a common policy to a common problem".

A total of 144 migrants were taken to hospital for treatment - mainly for scratches and burns - and only six were expected to stay overnight, the regional government of Valencia said in a statement.

The passengers are made up of 450 adult men and 80 women - including at least seven pregnant women -- as well as 11 under-13s and 89 adolescents, according to figures released by authorities in Valencia.

Both Italy and Malta agreed to provide food and other supplies to the ships, and with the help of two Italian Navy ships, the migrants began their journey.

Spain's new Socialist government has taken up the cause of the migrants' plight to demonstrate its commitment to protecting human rights and respecting global law.

The refusal a week ago by Italy and Malta to allow the Aquarius to enter their ports has created a row between European Union members over how to handle immigration.

The Aquarius was sent away by Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini in an apparent bid to establish his new government's anti-migration credentials.

The arrival of the Aquarius convoy comes during a spike of seaborne migrants crossing from African shores to southern Spain. Spain's maritime rescue service pulled 1,290 people from several dozen smuggling boats near the Strait of Gibraltar and the Canary Islands from Friday through Sunday.

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