Spain rescues more than 900 boat migrants, finds 4 bodies


An Italian coast guard ship carrying migrants rescued from the Mediterranean Sea arrived in the Spanish port city of Valencia on Sunday, marking the end of a dispute that laid bare divisions among European Union member states over migration and asylum policy.

As the Aquarius prepares to arrive at Spain's eastern port of Valencia on Sunday, spirits on board are lifting, but human rights activists worry others won't be as lucky because this episode may have set a precedent of turning migrants away.

After the first boat docked, medical staff wearing white overalls, gloves and masks went on board to carry out initial medical checks before the migrants disembarked in groups of 20.

The migrants who were rescued last Saturday remained at sea Friday.

Hundreds of global journalists were accredited to cover Sunday's arrival of the migrants in Valencia.

The ship carried 629 people it had rescued off the coast of Libya and spent almost a week at sea as Italy's new government banned it from docking.

Spain eventually stepped in and agreed to receive the refugees. It took the convoy almost a week to travel the 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) between Sicily and Spain.

Migrants sing on the deck of MV Aquarius, a search and rescue ship run in partnership between SOS Mediterranee and Doctors Without Borders on their way to Spain, June 16, 2018.

"If worldwide law asked for it to be our responsibility - just or unjust - I would have been the first one to order the boat to shore".

Spain's maritime rescue service says it has rescued around 270 migrants and recovered three bodies from more than 30 boats trying to cross from Africa by sea.

The first person through the process was a 29-year-old man from South Sudan.

Meanwhile, the prosecutor of Catania in Sicily said that NGOs providing assistance to migrants in the Mediterranean "are part of a deeply flawed system, which gives traffickers and unscrupulous criminals access to Europe".

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"If people sustain the efforts that are being made and we do not see a one-off operation, it could be a game changer", he said.

Physical exams did not reveal any serious health problems, but many passengers showed signs of exposure to high temperatures.

Spain's Foreign Minister Josep Borrell. They joined the Aquarius after concerns emerged that it would not be able to safely complete the 932-mile journey to Spain in inclement weather and with 629 people aboard. "(The EU) must recognize that it needs an immigration policy that these times require".

Italy sent out two of its own ships to help with the overcrowding on the rescue vessel.

On Monday, came news that Spain would take the ship in.

Cordt, who took over the agency at the beginning of 2017, was caught in the fallout from a scandal centering on the Bremen branch of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees.

Valencia City Council said on Saturday it was expecting the ship to arrive in the next few hours.

The destination wasn't immediately announced, but the coast guard said it wouldn't dock until at least Tuesday.

Madrid said Saturday it had accepted an offer from France to take in migrants from the Aquarius rescue ship, now en route to Spain with more than 600 people on board.

"France will accept migrants who express the wish to go there" said Calvo.

Malta refused to take the boat, saying it had nothing to do with the rescue, which was coordinated by Italy's coast guard.

Some 600,000 rescued migrants have arrived in Italy in recent years. That allowed Sanchez, a socialist, to offer migrant-friendly policies to voters who felt previous governments did not do enough.