A rescue boat loaded with hundreds of refugees which has been stranded in the Mediterranean Sea after Italy and Malta refused to allow the boat to dock, is unable to make the journey to Spain where the government has said it can land.
Bad weather in the area is forecast to get worse, making the three-to-five-day voyage dangerous, according to French humanitarian group SOS Meiterranee France.
According to the organisation, 629 migrants have been taken on board the Aquarius rescue boat, including 123 unaccompanied minors and seven pregnant women.
On Monday evening the group put out a message which read: “Reaching Spain would take several days. With 629 people on board and weather deteriorating, the situation could become critical.”
“Priority must remain the safety of all survivors. It is the responsibility of the Italian maritime authorities to find a safe and fast solution for the 629 people aboard the #Aquarius.”
The boat was refused entry to Italian ports after Italy’s interior minister Matteo Salvini, who is also leader of far-right party Lega Nord (Northern League) said that all Italian ports were closed the Aquarius. In a Facebook post he called on Malta to take in the vessel.
He said: “Malta takes in nobody. France pushes people back at the border, Spain defends its frontier with weapons. From today, Italy will also start to say no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration.”
But the new Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, who took office just over a week ago, then said Spain would allow the rescue vessel to dock in the city of Valencia, where the rescued migrants and refugees could finally disembark. Despite the offer, it now looks unlikely the boat will attempt to reach Spain.
The Aquarius patrols the sea route between Libya and Italy. According to the UN there have been more than 30,000 sea arrivals of refugees in the Mediterranean so far this year.
This number has been decreasing dramatically in recent years. In October 2015 alone there were 221,454 sea arrivals in the area.
A spokesperson from Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), said in an earlier statement: “MSF is concerned that again politics are being placed above people’s lives. The priority must be the importance of the well being and safety of the people on board.”