Migrants disembark in Spain after Mediterranean standoff

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(CNN) — A group of migrants stranded in the Mediterranean for more than a week after Italy refused to let their ship into port are disembarking in the Spanish city of Valencia.

A total of 630 of migrants had been rescued by the Aquarius, a ship operated by Doctors Without Borders and SOS Mediterranee, last weekend off the coast of Libya. At least 100 minors and seven pregnant women are among the group.

The ship was held for two days between Malta and the Italian island of Sicily after Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini refused to allow the ship to dock.

After Spain offered to take them in, the ship started an 800-mile journey to Valencia along with two Italian ships, which were sent to ease the overcrowding.

The first group of 274 migrants arrived at the Spanish port Sunday morning aboard the Italian Coast Guard ship Dattilo. The Aquarius arrived in port next, with the third vessel expected later Sunday.


More than 2,300 people are meeting the ships, including 400 translators, 1,000 Red Cross volunteers and around 600 police officers, local authorities said.

France makes settlement offer

SOS Mediterranee posted footage on Twitter of migrants dancing and singing as they viewed the Spanish coast.

"Relief & happiness on board the #Aquarius as we see Spanish shores. ... The end of a long and exhausting odyssey is close," it said.


Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, tweeted that migrants on board the Aquarius had been "calm and pleased" to hear they would be arriving in Spain Sunday morning. In a separate tweet, MSF said the ship would be obliged to conduct search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean "for as long as European governments fail to fulfill their responsibilities."


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

France made the offer via its ambassador to Spain, Deputy PM Carmen Calvo said in a statement. In a telegram, Spain's President, Pedro Sanchez, thanked French President Emmanuel Macron for his offer.

Macron had been critical of Italy's refusal to accept the Aquarius migrants but later worked to smooth things over with Italy's Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte.

Italy's warning

Salvini, Italy's hard-line, anti-immigration interior minister and the leader of League party, was instrumental in blocking the Aquarius from docking this week in his country.

On Saturday, he warned other ships carrying migrants as part of a humanitarian mission not to try to dock in Italy.

"While the Aquarius ship goes toward Spain, 2 other NGO ships with Dutch flags have arrived near the Libyan coast," Salvini tweeted Saturday.

"We know that Italy does not want to be complicit in the business of clandestine immigration, and they will have to look for other ports to go to," he said, without providing details about the Dutch-flagged ships.

Salvini has previously promised to expel half a million illegal immigrants from Italy. He's also shared anti-immigrant memes on social media.

This story was first published on CNN.com, "Migrants disembark in Spain after Mediterranean standoff."