Author: KHALEDA RAHMAN FOR MAILONLINE
Almost half of the 630 migrants who arrived in Spain’s port of Valencia at the weekend after Italy turned away their rescue ship want to seek asylum in France.
The migrants arrived in Spain on Sunday in three vessels, including the rescue ship Aquarius, after being turned away by Italy and Malta last week.
Spain’s Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo told Spanish radio Cadena Ser on Monday that half of the 630 migrants who arrived on a convoy of ships have expressed a desire to be granted asylum in France.
France has said it will work with Spain to deal with asylum applications.
Calvo called the agreement with France ‘an example of cooperation’ within the European Union.
Almost half the migrants have shown their willingness to seek asylum in France, which offered to welcome some of the people travelling on the ship,’ Spain’s new socialist government said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Pascal Brice, director-general of France’s refugee protection office Ofpra, said one of his teams would travel to Valencia soon.
As soon as the Spanish authorities have informed us of the number of people concerned, a team from Ofpra will go on site to conduct the interviews and ensure that people are covered by the right to asylum,’ he said, adding that the process should take place this week.
The majority of the 630 migrants are from Africa, including 450 men and 80 women, of which at least seven are pregnant, according to Valencian authorities.
There are also 89 adolescents and 11 children under the age of 13.
The Aquarius rescued them from the Mediterranean Sea off Libya’s coast on June 9.
But Italy and Malta’s refusal to let the ship dock led to an international outcry before Spain stepped in to help.
The Aquarius completed a 930-mile (1,500km) journey from Sicily to Valencia, ending a weeklong ordeal for the 630 people rescued.
Spain’s new center-left government granted the migrants 45-day stays to sort out their legal status.
On Monday, Spain’s maritime rescue service said it has brought to safety 152 migrants attempting to enter Europe by sea, while a boat with 54 more people is still missing.
The service said it found three inflatable rubber boats carrying a total of 102 migrants in the western Mediterranean Sea, while a rescue vessel transferred to Almeria 50 people which had docked on the tiny Spanish island of Alboran.
Rescuers were also trying to locate a boat with 54 migrants on board believed to be in an area closer to the Strait of Gibraltar.
The so-called western Mediterranean migration route into Spain has seen an uptick in traffic lately, with more than 13,000 arrivals in 2018, according to the United Nations, 1,400 of them since last Friday.
The EU’s asylum office says the number of people applying for international protection in Europe has plunged but remains higher than before 2015, when more than one million migrants entered, many fleeing the war in Syria.
In an annual report on Monday, EASO that 728,470 application requests were made for international protection in 2017, compared to almost 1.3 million applications the previous year.
It says around 30 percent of the applicants come from conflict-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
EASO says there is a still a backlog: more than 950,000 applications were still awaiting a final decision at the end of last year, almost half of them in Germany.
More than 460,000 people applied for asylum in Europe in 2013. More than 660,000 did so in 2014.