Many Nigerians, including children were among the 630 migrants saved by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) ship Aquarius and two other ships, that were allowed to dock in Spanish city of Valencia on Sunday, a week after Italy refused to let them.
Although their specific number has not been given, the Nigerians were among the 31 nationalities rescued from the Mediterranean Sea by the Aquarius.
The two ships from Italy’s coast guard and navy shared out the passengers to make the long journey safer.
The Aquarius, with 106 migrants, entered the mouth of the Valencia port shortly before eleven in the morning
The Dattilo, the largest ship owned by the Italian Coast Guard, was the first to dock. It transported 274 people.
The last was Orione, a military frigate with 250 more.
Apart from the Nigerians, the Sudanese, the Eritreans and the Algerians were also in large numbers.
There were Sierra Leonians too among the rescued like a young mother who claimed she left her country because she wanted to avoid circumcision for her girls:
“I left Sierra Leone almost 11 months ago…because I want to protect my baby girls who they want to circumcise. I tell them I don’t want to circumcise my children. I went to the desert, to Libya and on the boat, she said.”
After Italy’s refusal, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez offered to take the ships in, meaning they had to travel an extra 700 nautical miles after plucking the migrants from unstable boats off the coast of Libya.
The odyssey of the migrants was vividly narrated by MSF Head of Emergencies. Karline Kleijer who slammed Italy for its shameful behaviour.
“We are grateful to Spain for stepping in, even as Italian and other European governments have shamefully failed in their humanitarian responsibilities and placed politics over the lives of vulnerable people.”
“Over the weekend of 9 and 10 June, the Aquarius search and rescue vessel, operated by SOS Méditerranée in partnership with MSF, rescued more than 200 people and received an additional 400 people from Italian naval and coastguard ships.
“Although the rescue and transfers of the 630 people were initiated and coordinated by the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC), the Italian authorities denied Aquarius authorisation to bring them ashore in the closest port of safety in Italy. In doing so, they broke with past practice and international law. Malta, which had the nearest safe port, also refused to allow the Aquarius to disembark, citing Italy’s coordination role and responsibility.
Eventually, on 11 June, the Spanish government intervened and offered to let the Aquarius disembark in Valencia, 1,300 kilometres away.
“MSF continued to press the Italian authorities to authorise disembarkation in the closest safe port as stipulated under international maritime law. MSF also raised serious safety and humanitarian concerns connected to sailing with 630 passengers in an overcrowded boat for four more days without adequate shelter or sufficient food.
“Often, the Italian authorities appeared callous. At first, they suggested that MSF transfer any vulnerable people. However, when MSF provided a list of almost 200 people, including unaccompanied minors, the sick and injured, pregnant women and women with children traveling alone, they refused. The Italian authorities then requested that we transfer only the seven pregnant women, but failed to respond to MSF’s concern about separating families and the need for husbands to accompany their pregnant partners,” said Kleijer.
“Despite MSF’s concerns about the humanitarian and medical impact of the sea journey to Valencia, the Italian authorities instructed Aquarius on 12 June to transfer 524 people back to Italian ships and embark with the remaining 106 rescued on a four-day journey to Spain.
“Italian authorities shamefully closed their ports to 630 rescued people and moved them around the sea for political point-scoring,” says Kleijer.
“Even if Italy has legitimate grievances about other European governments failing to accept their share of refugees, that’s no justification for this degrading treatment.”