Close to two months after giving a high-profile welcome to the Aquarius migrant rescue boat, Spain once again opened its ports Thursday to a charity vessel carrying 87 men and boys saved off Libya after Italy refused access.
The white ship belonging to Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms arrived in the southern port of San Roque, just across from Gibraltar near the city of Algeciras, at 9:20 am (0720 GMT).
This time, however, journalists were refused access and kept at a distance.
Madrid said the migrants, nearly all from Sudan including the restive region of Darfur, would not be given a special 45-day humanitarian residency permit like those on board the Aquarius received.
According to Proactiva, the 75 men and 12 boys had spent 50 hours at sea on board an inflatable boat, without drinking water, and many suffered burns from a mixture of fuel and salt water before they were rescued on August 2.
The NGO says many of them were “repeatedly abused in Libya.”
The ship spent days wandering the Mediterranean as it waited for a port to dock.
Finally Spain stepped in after Rome refused access, even though the country has overtaken Italy as the main destination for migrants this year due to a crackdown by Libyan authorities and the Italian government’s hardline approach.
More than 23,700 people have arrived in Spain by sea so far this year with 307 dying in the attempt, according to the International Organization for Migration — more than during all of last year.
‘Have a heart’
The country’s new Socialist government has allowed the docking of three NGO rescue ships since June after Italy and Malta refused access.
In June, the French NGO Aquarius ship, which had picked up 630 stranded migrants off Libya, was allowed to dock in Spain’s eastern port of Valencia.
Then on July 4, a Proactiva Open Arms’ ship docked in Barcelona with 60 migrants.
This time round though, the Spanish government has said the 87 migrants who have arrived in San Roque will be treated in the same way as the hundreds who arrive every week on Spanish shores.
When the Aquarius docked, Madrid had given each migrant a 45-day residency permit for humanitarian reasons.
Those brought back to Barcelona had also been given special treatment.
Faced with the arrival of hundreds of migrants, the welcome centres in the Cadiz province of Andalucia, where San Roque is located, have found themselves saturated.
Migrants have had to sleep on board coastguard boats or in sports centres.
Spain has hastily opened a new migrant reception centre in San Roque.
Jose Ignacio Landaluce, the mayor of Algeciras, told Spanish radio he was “concerned” at the idea that his 125,000-strong city would become “the only port welcoming rescue boats and NGO ships.”
He stressed that migrants were arriving almost daily in his city on board rickety inflatable dinghies.
“The media spotlight is often on ships like that of the Open Arms, but the reality here is that yesterday, 500 (people arrived),” he said.
“We in Algeciras and the rest of Spain all have a heart, but you have to be reasonable, we just don’t have the means,” he added, pointing to high unemployment in his city which he had to address.
Spain’s new Socialist government has blamed the previous conservative adminstration, which it ousted in June, for not having prepared for the mass arrival of migrants, pointing out this started more than a year ago.
The conservatives in turn accuse Madrid of creating a “pull factor” by taking in the rescue ships.