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Migrant boat Open Arms allowed to dock; celebrities voice their support for rescuers
By thinkSPAIN Team Thu, Aug 15, 2019
MIGRANT rescue boat Open Arms has finally been allowed to dock on the Italian island of Lampedusa after the country's interior minister Matteo Salvini temporarily lifted his ban due to storms in the Mediterranean making the situation urgent.
The craft, owned by the Catalunya-based charity of the same name and one of three that has defied international prohibitions and continued to save lives in the central Mediterranean, has been adrift since last Monday - initially with 121 migrants on board, including at least 12 small children and three very heavily-pregnant women - but has since rescued another 39.
Spain said Italy and Malta, the two nearest safe countries, should take responsibility, but both refused the craft permission to drop anchor.
Maltese prime minister Joseph Muscat has, however, allowed the German rescue boat Sea Watch to disembark, but is not prepared to allow any of the migrants on board to seek asylum in, or remain in, the country.
The southern Mediterranean island nation, which is just five kilometres wide and 17 kilometres long with a population of 400,000, is already struggling to cope with the influx of would-be refugees and has camps set up in several ports, all of which are full to bursting.
Far-right interior minister in Italy, Salvini, initially refused altogether, even telling the Open Arms crew to 'take them to Ibiza so they can go partying' instead.
The charity, which Salvini considers to be a 'criminal organisation' involved in 'assisting illegal immigration', was facing fines of up to €1 million if it tried to sail into any port in Italy with the ‘migrants’ – a term widely used by the English-language media to collectively define anyone on the move from their home country, for whatever reason, until their status is clarified, and which includes those who would probably be granted asylum if they sought it.
Its leader, Óscar Camps, had announced earlier this week his team's intention to try to seek asylum at the Spanish embassy in Italy for at least eight children and their families, but Spanish interior minister José Luis Ábalos said he could not legally do so.
Camps has since said he would request the 'immediate evacuation on medical grounds' for 147 of the migrants, who include pregnant women - although three of these, who are facing complications and are due to go into labour any day, have already been admitted to Italian hospitals.
But Camps said he would rather wait until he had authorisation from one of the 'nearest countries with safe ports', which are Italy and Malta.
Celebrities have spoken out about the situation, too.
Penélope Cruz's husband, 'Bond villain' Javier Bardem, has urged Spain's president Pedro Sánchez to 'lead a process of distribution' of the rescued migrants among European Union countries.
"I'm uniting my voice with those of many, many people who are asking acting president Pedro Sánchez to lead, in the name of Spain - the country of origin of the charity Open Arms and of all its workers who, risking their own lives, save those of many other people - a distribution process of all the persons rescued across the different member States of the European Union," Bardem said on Twitter.
He said he wanted to 'send out a message of support' to Open Arms and to 'those who have been on the boat for so many days', including 'charity workers, crew and those rescued'.
"Spain is the most fair and most ideal country to coordinate and head up the distribution of the rescuees," Bardem argues, and calls on Sánchez to set the wheels in motion 'urgently' and to 'carry out a job that is in line with the human dignity and ethics that Open Arms represents as a Spanish organisation internationally'.
Actor Richard Gere, who delivered food parcels for the migrants on the Open Arms earlier this week and helped load them, criticised Salvini's 'anti-immigration laws' after the alt-right minister initially refused to allow the Open Arms to dock.
In response to claims by the far-right that he was a 'multi-millionaire' who had brought the food to the boat 'for the so-called refugees' as a 'publicity stunt', Gere said: "Nobody told me to come. I came spontaneously. I was on holiday with my family near Rome and after hearing they had approved the anti-immigration decree - a law that nobody can quite believe is in force - I decided to visit the Open Arms boat. I met the organisation a few years ago in Barcelona.
"There seems to be a certain generalised paranoia, a fear of helping foreigners, but these people on the boat are not immigrants. They're refugees."
Whilst delivering the food parcels, Gere, 69, said he ended up speaking to almost all the migrants, and recounted the story of a 17-year-old boy who talked to him.
"He speaks English perfectly, because he's learnt it watching films," says Gere.
The actor says the teen was used as a 'bargaining chip' by the military, ‘traded’ like ‘currency’.
"And practically all the women on board have been repeatedly raped and tortured in Libya," he continues.
"There's an entire family of women on the boat - grandmother, mother and granddaughters - who fled their home country, where they were tortured and raped again and again, and are seeking a better future in Europe.
"They will always be psychologically damaged by these tragedies, but their lives can and will go on," stressed Gere, who is married to Galicia-born Alejandra Silva, 36, with whom he has a six-month-old son.
The Pretty Woman star has long been a passionate humanitarian activist, and his wife runs a charitable foundation responsible for two homeless shelters in the Basque Country and Madrid.
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