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As Others Slam The Door, Spain's New Government Opens Arms To Migrant Ships


A rescue ship with 60 migrants aboard arrived today in Barcelona. It met with a warm welcome. That is in stark contrast to the reception it got from other Mediterranean nations. Italy and Malta had refused the ship entry on Saturday. As some European countries close their doors to migrants, Spain is taking a different approach. Lucia Benavides reports.

LUCIA BENAVIDES: The ship, named Proactiva Open Arms, made its way into the Barcelona port as Red Cross volunteers waited in makeshift tents to provide medical and psychological assistance. There were 60 migrants on board from around the Middle East and Africa. Last month, another ship, the Aquarius, arrived in Valencia with 60 migrants and was greeted by cheering crowds at the dock. Pascale Coissard is with the Catalan Commission for Refugees, an organization that provides legal advice for asylum seekers.

PASCALE COISSARD: We have seen a very big increase in the asylum claims, especially last year, with more than 30,000 asylum claims. And we are forecasting that this year, we might triple this number.

BENAVIDES: The International Organization for Migration says 1,400 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea this year. Spain alone has seen a 55 percent increase in migrant arrivals by sea compared to this time last year, with most crossings taking place in the western Mediterranean. While some European countries have stopped taking in migrants, Spain's new center-left government has been particularly open to these arrivals. It's taken in two ships turned away by Italy and Malta and promised to, quote, "put people's rights first."

ADA COLAU: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: In a press conference welcoming today's migrants, Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau said that in order to be a democracy that values human rights, Spain's only option is to save lives. But this open-door attitude could also come from the fact that Spain has not seen as many migrants come in as Italy or Greece have in the last four years. Barcelona resident Brigite Francomata worries it could get to that point. She says she doesn't support Spain's decision to take in today's migrants.

BRIGITE FRANCOMATA: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: Francomata says she'd take in all the refugees, but there's already a lot of inequality in the city. She worries taking in more migrants could mean that those already here will be ignored.

FRANCOMATA: (Speaking Spanish).

BENAVIDES: "It's something that should be resolved between all European countries," she says, "and not just one." Pascale Coissard from the refugee organization thinks it's a good sign that Spain took in the Aquarius and Proactiva Open Arms. But there's more to be done.

COISSARD: I think the other ports of the European Union should definitely open because it's against international law and CLO and human rights not to open this port.

BENAVIDES: As of Tuesday night, she adds, there were no humanitarian search and rescue ships monitoring the Mediterranean Sea. Coissard worries this could lead to an increase of deaths, as the months warm, and more migrants cross. For NPR News, I'm Lucia Benavides in Barcelona.

(SOUNDBITE OF LUDOVICO EINAUDI'S "ELEMENTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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