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Spanish fishing boat carrying rescued migrants heads to Malta

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BARCELONA (Reuters) – A Spanish fishing boat carrying 11 migrants rescued off the coast of Libya is heading to Malta, the Spanish government said on Sunday, bringing an end to a protracted standoff to find a safe port for the boat amid increasing European resistance to accepting migrants.

After offering to take more than 600 migrants rejected by Italy and Malta over the summer, Madrid said that rather than making the long journey to Spain, the boat should head to the nearest safe port.

“From the beginning, the government has worked to ensure the boat, which is in international waters, goes to a safe and nearby port,” Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said in a statement on Sunday.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Socialists go to the polls on Sunday in a key regional election in Andalusia, the main entry point for migrants making the dangerous sea crossing to Spain. Immigration has been a major focus of the campaign, while a surging far right is predicted to win its first seats since the 1970s.

The fishing boat, Santa Madre de Loreto, rescued 12 migrants in international waters off the coast of Libya 10 days ago. Spanish NGO Proactiva Open Arms has been assisting the boat and migrants aboard, who it says would not have been safe if they were returned to Libya.

“The government now says #Santa Madre de Loreto should head to Malta. Late, wrong and unscrupulous. Playing with the security of people who have gone 10 days without news, amid a rough storm, and with one person rescued by helicopter and a high risk for the whole crew,” Oscar Camps, founder of Proactiva Open Arms, wrote on Twitter on Sunday morning.

(Reporting by Sam Edwards)

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