Rescue boat carrying scores of migrants arrives at Spanish port
Most of the refugees are thought to have fled the Sudanese war.
A rescue boat carrying 87 African migrants and refugees saved in the Mediterranean Sea has docked at the southern Spanish port of Algeciras.
Its arrival on Thursday comes as the political mood in Spain shows signs of tension over a spike in migrant arrivals.
The boat operated by Spanish aid group Proactiva Open Arms delivered what it says are mostly Sudanese war refugees it picked up off the Libyan coast on August 2.
Spain allowed the boat to come after other, geographically closer, European Union countries refused to let it dock amid continuing strain among governments about how to respond to the wave of migrants crossing from Africa.
Spain’s new centre-left Socialist government made fair treatment of migrants one of its headline policies after coming to power two months ago.
In June, it announced measures to “put people’s rights first” in the country’s migration policies. Among other things, it took the first steps toward extending public health care to foreigners without residence permits.
That same month, the government accepted the Aquarius rescue ship with 630 migrants on board after Malta and Italy turned it away.
Authorities gave those migrants who arrived in Valencia a special entry permit into Spain of 45 days for humanitarian reasons.
A further 60 who arrived on a rescue ship in Barcelona last month were given a 30-day permit while they decided what to do. Their paperwork was also fast-tracked.
But those who arrived in Algeciras on Thursday will receive no such special treatment.
They will be processed, the government said, like any other migrants rescued at sea: held by police for 72 hours at a migrant camp, given a medical check-up, identified and detained while they await asylum or are given an expulsion order.
The government official overseeing immigration, Magdalena Valerio, said earlier this week there would be no extra money for migrant policies before the end of the year.
The Spanish Network for Immigration and Refugee Help, a non-governmental organisation, accused ministers of abruptly “changing course” in its immigration policies and “discriminating” against the new arrivals.
“We’d like Spain to remain a safe haven and be a bulwark against the populism of (Italian interior minister Matteo) Salvini and (French far-right nationalist leader Marine) Le Pen,” the organisation’s president, Daniel Mendez, told Spanish news agency Europa Press.
Critics of the new government’s perceived softer approach toward migrants said its policies had backfired, by attracting ever higher numbers, and the government is increasingly wary of that criticism.
The UN migration agency said almost 24,000 refugees and other migrants have arrived in Spain by sea this year – nearly three times the number last year.
The agency says Spain has become the most popular European destination for Mediterranean migrants, with just over 40 percent of the total, after Libya and Italy began cracking down. Most come on overcrowded smugglers’ boats from Tunisia and Morocco.
Opposition leader Pablo Casado has targeted Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s immigration policies.
He said last month: “What Spaniards are looking for is a party which says clearly that we can’t give documents to everyone, and Spain can’t take in millions of Africans.”
Such criticism has left Mr Sanchez politically exposed when he heads a minority government with just 84 of the 350 seats in the lower house of parliament.