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Rescue boat arrives in Spain with more than 300 migrants

Olmo Calvo, AFP | A rescue helicopter evacuates a mother and newborn baby after they were rescued along with nearly 300 other migrants off the coast of Libya on December 21 by the Proactiva Open Arms organisation.

A Spanish charity rescue boat arrived in the country's southern port Friday morning carrying more than 300 migrants rescued off the coast of Libya a week ago.

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The Open Arms docked in the port of Crinavis in San Roque, just across from Gibraltar near the city of Algeciras. Proactiva Open Arms, the Spanish charity which runs the vessel, tweeted the details on Thursday.

Red Cross workers will be on hand to provide food, clothes and medical assistance to the 310 migrants on board, including people from Somalia, Nigeria and Mali. Police will identify them before moving them to shelters.

The charity operates in the sea between Libya and southern Europe, coming to the aid migrants who get into difficulties during the crossing from northern Africa.

It rescued the migrants, including pregnant women, children and babies, on December 21 from three vessels.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's Socialist government on Saturday authorised the ship to dock in Spain after Italy and Malta both refused it access.

Libya, France and Tunisia did not respond to Proactiva Open Arms' requests for permission to dock, Madrid said.

On Saturday, a newborn baby and his mother were helicoptered from the boat to Malta, while a 14-year-old suffering from a serious skin infection was taken to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Christmas on board

Photos and videos posted by the charity showed the rest of the rescued migrants marking Christmas at sea listening to music and singing. Some children wore red Santa hats as they huddled together on the small rescue ship.

Another ship operated by Proactiva Open Arms, the Astral, delivered blankets, medicine and food to the Open Arms on Monday.

The Open Arms resumed its patrols of the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast in late November, along with two other boats run by migrant aid groups.

In August it had suspended its missions, accusing governments, and Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini by name, of "criminalising" migrant rescue charities.

Salvini has denied the groups access to Italy's ports, accusing them of acting as a "taxi service" for migrants. Malta too has been increasingly unwilling to host rescue vessels.

"Your rhetoric and your message will, like everything in this life, end," Proactiva Open Arms founder Oscar Camps told Salvini via Twitter earlier this week.

"But you should know that in a few decades your descendants will be ashamed of what you do and say."

Most deadly route

Friday's docking will be the first time since August that Spain has allowed a charity rescue ship to dock and unload migrants in the country.

Sanchez made international headlines shortly after he arrived in power in June by helping a French charity rescue ship, the Aquarius.

>> Mission Aquarius: 10 days rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean

He cleared it to dock in the eastern port of Valencia with over 600 migrants on board, after it had been turned away by Italy and Malta, as tensions mounted in Europe over migration policy.

Madrid then allowed the Open Arms to dock three times in July and August but then refused to let the Aquarius back a second time.

Instead, they negotiated the distribution of the migrants it had rescued among several European Union member states.

More than 1,300 migrants have perished trying to reach Italy or Malta since the beginning of the year, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

That makes this stretch of the Mediterranean the most deadly for migrants attempting the crossing to Europe.

Spain meanwhile has become Europe's main entry point for migrants this year, overtaking Greece and Italy.

More 56,000 migrants have arrived in Spain by sea this year, and 769 have died trying, according to the IOM.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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