Spain steps in to offer aid to sea-stranded migrants

Migrants on a Italian Coast Guard ship after being transferred from the Aquarius ship, in the Mediterranean Sea. Picture: AP
Migrants on a Italian Coast Guard ship after being transferred from the Aquarius ship, in the Mediterranean Sea. Picture: AP
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They are the lost souls Europe became blind to, 123 of them just children.

Bewildered and scared, they huddled together aboard the Aquarius, a ship of 629 migrants known as the ­Mediterranean’s floating hospital.

Just days earlier they had been sinking into the sea aboard rafts. One man suffered a heart attack during a rescue bid. He was resuscitated where he lay.

Hundreds of others were moments from drowning, before the white and orange hull of the SoS Mediterranee vessel slipped into view.

Among those rescued by the charity were six pregnant women, all thought to have fled from lawlessness in Libya.

All are grateful to be alive but terrified of what happens next.

First Italy with its new ­hardline political regime refused to offer them port, let alone sanctuary. Malta, pleading poverty, was next to leave them stranded.

They have been marooned at sea since Saturday as countries wrangle over what to do with them.

But last night a relief effort was finally underway to split them between three vessels, including two Italian ships from the navy and coastguard.

Spain’s new premier, Pedro Sanchez, said his country would offer help.

Once decanted, the migrants will spend several days negotiating poor weather to reach Valencia and aid.

The new Spanish foreign minister, Josep Borrel, said its decision to accept the migrant ship is also meant to push European Union leaders to address the bloc’s migration policies later this month at an EU summit.

“Spain has made a gesture that aims to trigger a European dynamic to stop looking away, allowing one (EU member) to cope with the problem while the rest of us pass the buck,” he told Ser radio.

The decision to offer a docking port in the eastern city of Valencia had also been a ­personal and direct move by the country’s new prime ­minister, to distinguish his ­policies as different to the ­previous regime and that of their near neighbours, allowing him a bold new entrance to EU politics.

Many Spanish regions and cities have now also offered to provide long-term support to the migrants, according to Valencia’s regional vice president, Monica Oltra.

Last night, the Red Cross was preparing shelter and medical assistance to meet immediate needs on their arrival, while Doctors Without Borders are tending to medical assistance.

French president Emmanuel Macron has criticised what he called Italy’s cynicism and ­irresponsibility in turning away the ship.

But while the immediate human crisis aboard the Aquarius nears an end, reports have emerged of more migrant boats setting sail, as politicians in Europe continue to deliberate a course between prioritising votes or humanity.