Half of Aquarius migrants ‘seek asylum in France’

The MV Aquarius rescue ship is seen as migrants on are rescued by the SOS Mediterranee organisation during a search and rescue (SAR) operation in the Mediterranean Sea, off the Libyan Coast, September 14, 2017. — Reuters pic
The MV Aquarius rescue ship is seen as migrants on are rescued by the SOS Mediterranee organisation during a search and rescue (SAR) operation in the Mediterranean Sea, off the Libyan Coast, September 14, 2017. — Reuters pic

MADRID, July 19 — Almost half of the 630 migrants that were rescued from the Mediterranean and arrived in Spain’s port of Valencia at the weekend want to seek asylum in France, the Spanish government said yesterday.

The migrants arrived in Spain on Sunday in three vessels, including the rescue ship Aquarius, after being turned away by Italy and Malta last week.

“Almost half the migrants have shown their willingness to seek asylum in France, which offered to welcome some of the people travelling on the ship,” Spain’s new socialist government said in a statement.

The majority of the 630 migrants are from Africa, including 450 men and 80 women, of which at least seven are pregnant, as well as 89 adolescents and 11 children under the age of 13, according to the Valencia authorities.

The Aquarius, run by French charity SOS Mediterranee, rescued them off Libya’s coast on June 9 and Italy and Malta’s refusal to let the ship dock led to an international outcry before Spain stepped in to help.

Madrid on Saturday said it had accepted an offer from France — who had angered Rome by branding it irresponsible — to welcome Aquarius migrants who “meet the criteria for asylum”.

France will examine asylum requests from Aquarius migrants who want to come over from Spain on a “case-by-case basis”, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said Sunday, adding it was “impossible” to know how many will arrive.

Interviews

Pascal Brice, director-general of France’s refugee protection office Ofpra, told AFP that one of his teams would travel to Valencia soon.

“As soon as the Spanish authorities have informed us of the number of people concerned, a team from Ofpra will go on site to conduct the interviews and ensure that people are covered by the right to asylum,” he said, adding that the process should take place this week.

Local leaders on the French island of Corsica had offered to welcome the Aquarius, but the move was slapped down by the central government, which argued that under international law the ship had to dock at the closest port.

A majority of the French public, 56 per cent, back the government’s decision, an opinion poll released yesterday showed.

In Spain the migrants were granted authorisation to remain in the country for 45 days while each individual’s legal case is studied.

Those who file a demand for asylum will be able to stay in the country while immigration services consider their request, a process that takes up to six months, said Paloma Favieres of the  Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR).

Open to immigrants

While several European Union nations have adopted a harder line against refugees, Spain’s new Socialist government has announced a series of measures to help migrants since it came to power earlier this month, in a break with the policies of its conservative predecessor.

Last week the government said it would restore public health care to foreigners without residence permits and said it wants to remove the barbed wire that tops the border fences of Ceuta and Melilla, the two Spanish enclaves in North Africa. Those fences are often stormed by migrants trying to reach Spanish territory from Africa.

Traditionally a nation that sent immigrants abroad, Spain is one of the European Union’s most tolerant when it comes to immigration, according to an october 2017 Eurobarometer survey carried out for the European Commission.

It found that only 26 per cent of Spaniards feel the arrival of immigrants from outside of Europe is “mainly a problem”, compared to an average of 38 per cent in the entire European Union.

The Spanish coast guard said it rescued over 1,400 migrants between Friday and Sunday who were trying to reach Spain, the third busiest gateway for migrants into Europe after Italy and Greece. — AFP

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