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Spanish warship with migrants arrives in Spain after Italy row

REUTERS/Jon Nazca

by Jon Nazca

A group of 15 rescued migrants arrived in Spain on board a Spanish warship on Friday after Italy refused to allow the rescue vessel that had picked them up in the Mediterranean Sea to dock at an Italian port.

Reuters witnesses saw the migrants, part of a larger group of over 100 people rescued by Spanish-registered boat Open Arms and then stranded off Italy for three weeks, walk ashore in dock facilities in Campamento, San Roque, and board a bus under police escort.

The 15 migrants - 14 men and a woman - will undergo health checks and will be granted provisional permits until their asylum applications have been resolved, Spain's government said in a statement.

Madrid dispatched the ship last week to pick up the migrants, all of them Africans, after five EU countries agreed to take them in following a prolonged standoff between the Open Arms and Italian authorities.

Italy's outgoing far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, has banned ships carrying illegal migrants from docking at Italian ports in an attempt to stem the flow of people trying to cross the Mediterrean to Europe from north Africa.

Rights group Amnesty International said this week the Open Arms saga - one of a number of similar cases - underlined Europe's failure to come to grips with the migration crisis.

The handling of the issue by Spain's caretaker Socialist government drew criticism at home during a special parliamentary session on Thursday. Some parties rapped the government for accepting the migrants and others for not doing so more quickly.

CEUTA

On the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar, more than 150 migrants crossed the border fence at Spain's North African enclave of Ceuta early on Friday and at least six Spanish police officers suffered minor injuries as they tried to stop them, a government spokesman in the city said.

The Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on Morocco's northern coast are a magnet for illegal African migrants trying to reach Europe in search of a better life. The enclaves are surrounded by a 6-metre-high fence topped with razor wire.

"Around 250 migrants tried to jump over the fence and some 155 made it," the spokesman said. "It has not been as violent as in the past. However, at least six police officers and some migrants were slightly injured."

The last major breach of the border fence by illegal migrants occurred in August last year when 118 migrant made it onto Spanish soil, though most were later returned to Morocco.

The incident in Ceuta coincided with the arrival in Spain of a Spanish warship carrying 15 migrants who had been stranded at sea following Italy's refusal to take them in.