Migrants' ordeal ends as ships touch land

An aid group’s ship and two Italian military vessels docked Sunday at the Spanish port of Valencia, ending a week-long ordeal for hundreds of migrants who were rescued from the Mediterranean Sea only to become pawns in a European political fight.

The Italian coast guard vessel Dattilo was the first of the boats in the convoy bearing 630 migrants to touch land. The 274 rescued people on board disembarked after medical staff made a preliminary inspection.

The rescue ship Aquarius came in four hours later carrying 106 migrants. An Italian navy ship, the Orione, came in a little later with the remaining 250.

The Aquarius, operated by the aid groups SOS Mediterranee Sea and Doctors Without Borders, was stuck off the coast of Sicily on June 9 when Italy’s new populist government refused it permission to dock and demanded that Malta allow it to do so. Malta also refused.

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

After Spain invited the Aquarius to land, Italy sent the Dattilo and Orione to help transport the migrants.

The refusal by Italy and Malta to allow the Aquarius to dock has reignited a continentwide battle over how to handle immigration.

Under the European Union’s asylum laws, migrants must apply for asylum in the country where they first enter Europe. In practice, the policy has placed a heavy burden on Italy and Greece, where hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers have arrived in recent years.

Overall, the European Union’s members have not agreed on how to handle the influx of refugees and migrants to Europe.

— Associated Press

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— From news services