Rescue ships finally dock in Spain as migrant debate roils Europe


But the plight of the Aquarius, run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) with Franco-German charity SOS Mediterranee, highlighted the European Union's failure to agree on how to manage the huge influx of people fleeing poverty and conflict.

A staff of 2,320, including volunteers, translators, police and health officials are awaiting the Aquarius and two Italian vessels that shared its passengers to make the voyage safer.

Some were "very shaken", said Valencia emergency official Jorge Suarez. "Put yourself in their position, you get off a ship and the first people who greet you are wearing masks".

Spain swooped to help 629 mainly sub-Saharan Africans on board the Aquarius last week after Italy's new government, asserting its anti-immigrant credentials, refused to let it dock.

After days of bickering and food and water running low on the ship, Spain stepped in and granted the rescue boat entry with a plan called "Operation Mediterranean Hope". The 930-mile journey across the Mediterranean from Sicily to Valencia took almost a week.

The total number of migrants being transported was 630.

"People are calm and pleased to be arriving in Spain", the group said.

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"They should know that Italy no longer wants to be an accomplice in the business of illegal immigration and therefore they will have to aim for other, non-Italian, ports", Salvini said.

The rescued people stayed on the Navy boat for several more days before being transferred to the Italian coast guard vessel on Sunday morning.

Boats full of refugees and migrants continue to courageous the treacherous waters of the Mediterranean in search of safety. "There will be a before and after", said Father Angel Garcia Rodriguez, a priest who heads the Messengers of Peace non-governmental organisation which is helping migrants at the port.

Under the EU's asylum laws - now the subject of a major political dispute and under revision - migrants must apply for asylum in the country where they first enter Europe.

Spain offers universal healthcare to its citizens, though the former centre-right government withdrew the right to general healthcare for undocumented migrants in 2012, as part of a programme to cut spending.

Italy's rejection of the Aquarius prompted a spat with France, while the issue of immigration has triggered a political row in Germany.

More than 1,000 migrants tried to jump a high double fence between Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Ceuta yesterday (1 January) in a violent assault that saw one officer lose an eye, local authorities said.