Spain's coast guard said it rescued more than 930 migrants and recovered four dead bodies Friday and Saturday in the Mediterranean Sea, as the country prepares for the arrival of the Aquarius rescue ship, which has become the heart of a major dispute within the European Union over how to handle the migration crisis.
The coast guard said hundreds of the migrants were rescued from small inflatable boats in the Gibraltar strait, where it also found the four bodies.
France, meanwhile, has accepted an offer from Spain to take in some of the hundreds of migrants aboard the Aquarius, which is headed to Spain after Italy's new populist government and Malta refused to let the ship dock in their ports.
After Malta refused, Spain offered to accept the migrants.
The Spanish government said in a statement Saturday that France accepted an offer from Madrid to accommodate migrants who wished to go to France and who met the country's criteria for asylum.
'Framework of cooperation'
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said he appreciated French President Emmanuel Macron's assistance, which he believes should be the model of "the framework of cooperation" that European nations must embrace to address the immigration issue.
The international aid group Doctors Without Borders, which operates the Aquarius along with the SOS Mediterranee, said earlier in the week the migrants were "exhausted and stressed," and it warned of severe health risks to some passengers, including pregnant women and a group of passengers who suffered burns.
Doctors Without Borders President David Noguera called on European countries Saturday to adopt a new migration policy to prevent another crisis like the one in the Mediterranean Sea.
"This obliges us all and mainly the European authorities and the countries of the European Union to rethink this model at once," Noguera said at a news conference in the Spanish port city of Valencia. "It is unacceptable that after three or four years we continue with these levels of suffering and mortality in this Mediterranean Sea, which has become the deadliest migratory corridor in the world."
The Aquarius rescued the migrants off Libya's coast last weekend. In addition to the Aquarius, two Italian boats are transporting some of the 630 migrants. The ships are expected to arrive Sunday in Valencia.
Italy's new interior minister, Matteo Salvini, who also leads the far-right League, said earlier this week his actions are designed to force other European countries to share the burdens presented by the ongoing influx of migrants.
But Salvini warned on Saturday that another migrant rescue mission off the Libyan coast involving two Dutch-flagged ships would not be allowed to dock in Italy. Salvini said in a Facebook posting the NGO ships, the Lifeline and the Seefuchs, were off the Libyan coast waiting to pick up migrants who had been abandoned by human traffickers.
"They should know that Italy no longer wants to be an accomplice in the business of illegal immigration and therefore they will have to aim for other
non-Italian ports," he said.
Salvini told the Senate on Wednesday he was receptive to forming an alliance with Germany and Austria on immigration before a key EU summit later this month. Summit leaders will consider changes to EU asylum law to more effectively share the burden of incoming migrants.
Demonstrators in Rome took to the streets Saturday to protest the country's new flat tax policy and Salvini's anti-immigrant policies. Many protesters held up placards, with one calling on the government to "Open the ports and the wallets."