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Shipwrecked African Migrants Arrive in Spain After Arduous Journey


A migrant child is helped from the Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms rescue vessel, after being rescued Dec. 21, in the Central Mediterranean Sea, to disembark in the port of Crinavis in Algeciras, Spain, Dec. 28, 2018.

A ship carrying 310 African migrants rescued from waters off Libya has arrived in Spain's southern port of Algeciras, after being denied entry by Italy and Malta.

The ship, operated by the humanitarian NGO Open Arms, plucked the migrants from three sinking boats in the Mediterranean a week ago. The migrants then endured a 1,770-kilometer trip in winter conditions before the ship, also named Open Arms, docked at 8:30 a.m. local time on Friday.

Spanish police boarded the ship, to run initial checks on the passengers and search for any illegal merchandise on board. The migrants were then bused from the ship to a processing center in a converted warehouse for medical examinations.

Red Cross workers who conducted the exams said all the migrants appeared to be in good health. One woman giving birth and a sick child were evacuated by helicopter to the Italian island of Lampedusa while the Open Arms was still at sea.

Italy closes ports

Italy, which has been the main destination of migrants sailing the Mediterranean from North Africa, has been closing its ports since a right-wing government came to power last year and pledged to stop the migrant flow.

This is the second ship full of migrants that Spain has accepted this year. Last June, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez similarly allowed the immigrant ship Aquarius to dock at the port of Valencia.

He is continuing the policy despite criticism from opponents who say that he is encouraging immigration to Spain, where the number of arriving migrants has quadrupled over the past year.

Just as the Open Arms pulled into Algeciras, another ship that has been picking up shipwrecked migrants off Libya, the Sea Watch, requested permission to dock in Spain. It has been turned away by five other European Union countries, according to Sea Watch chief officer Philip Hahn.

The Spanish coast guard reported picking up another 147 migrants from a sinking boat in the Alboran Sea between Morocco and Spain late Thursday.

The captain of Open Arms has said about 20 different African and Middle Eastern nationalities were represented among the migrants on board, including people from Sierra Leone, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Congo and Syria.

Temporary shelters

After health checks, the Open Arms migrants were taken to a temporary shelters, where they are likely to remain for months while EU identification paperwork and permits are processed. Such shelters, which are often small hostels or hotels, are funded by the EU and private groups. Shelters are being opened farther inland, into areas along a mountain range that rises above Algeciras and other ports where immigrants arrive.

Local resentment of the migrant influx has been blamed for an upset victory by the far-right VOX party in regional elections last month in the Andalucia region.

According to polls, over 40 percent of VOX voters said a fear of immigration drove them to vote for the party, which said it would close Spain's borders and stop providing social benefits to migrants.