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MSF urges EU states to allow immediate disembarkation of Aquarius

Medical charity says boat packed with 629 people should be allowed access to the nearest port immediately.

Doctors Without Borders (known by its French initials, MSF) has urged EU member states to give a boat packed with 629 rescued refugees and migrants immediate right to disembark, a day after Spain granted the vessel rights to dock in its territory.

Rescue workers onboard the MV Aquarius said it will take four days to reach the port of Valencia and that the boat should be allowed access to the nearest port immediately, which currently means in Italian or Maltese territory. 

"[MSF] welcomes this gesture of humanity but it would require four more days at sea in a boat already over maximum capacity and in deteriorating weather conditions," the organisation said in a tweet.

"This plan would mean already exhausted rescued people would endure four more days travel at sea," it added.

"The better option would be to disembark the rescued people in the nearest port after which they can be transferred to [Spain] or other safe countries for further care & legal processing."

Aloys Vimard from MSF said there was enough food and water "to give to people for two to three days".

Regarding the planned voyage to Spain, Vimard, who is on board the ship, told Euronews: "This is not what we wish, it's overcrowded ... people are weak, tired, exhausted."

The Aquarius was denied the right to dock in Italy and Malta. Italy's new populist coalition government between the far-right League party and anti-establishment Five Star Movement has pledged to stop the flow of people entering the country through the Mediterranean.

Matteo Salvini, the country's new interior minister and the head of League, blocked the Aquarius' access to Italian ports.

"Saving lives at sea is a duty, but transforming Italy into an enormous refugee camp is not," Salvini wrote on Facebook on Monday.


After Spain's new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez allowed the ship to dock in Valencia, Salvini celebrated the decision.

"Victory!" He wrote on Twitter after the announcement.

The Mediterranean is a key route into Europe for refugees and migrants are using North African states, such as Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt as launch points for journeys.

In the year 2017, 171,635 migrants and refugees made the sea crossing into Europe and 3,116 people died or went missing trying to do so.

Last week, at least 112 people died in a shipwreck off the coast of Tunisia while trying to make the journey north across the Mediterranean.

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