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EU parliament chief urges Juncker to help migrants aboard Spanish ship

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MADRID (Reuters) – The European Commission should help 121 migrants who have spent a week aboard a Spanish rescue boat to find refuge, European Parliament speaker David Sassoli said in a letter on Thursday to the EU executive’s president, Jean-Claude Juncker.

The migrants, who include 32 minors, were rescued last Thursday by the Barcelona-based charity Open Arms.

Three were evacuated to Italy for health reasons but the others remain aboard the charity’s ship in the Mediterranean seeking a safe port after Italy and Malta rejected its requests to disembark them.

“The situation is serious and calls for immediate action,” Sassoli, an Italian socialist, wrote in the letter, adding that if Europe cannot protect the migrants “it will mean that it has lost its soul, as well as its heart”.

Charity rescue boats have largely disappeared from the Mediterranean over the last year as governments have tightened controls and those that have rescued migrants have faced lengthy standoffs trying to disembark them.

Open Arms praised Sassoli’s letter and called on Brussels to create a platform to distribute migrants among EU countries willing to accept them. “We cannot leave these persons abandoned in the sea,” the NGO’s director Oscar Camps said in a message to reporters.

The charity has asked the Spanish, French and German governments to call for Brussels’ help so the vessel can dock in a safe port, but so far they have not received a response, a spokeswoman told Reuters.

Open Arms initially requested Italy and Malta to disembark all the rescued migrants but that was rejected, she added.

Spain’s acting deputy prime minister Carmen Calvo suggested on Thursday that it would not intervene in the case.

“We are not a country nor a government that can be questioned in these issues and we are not the closest nor most secure port in this situation,” she told reporters.

Open Arms’ boat was blocked from operating in the Mediterranean earlier this year after Spanish maritime authorities said it had violated international agreements that rescued migrants should be taken to the closest available port.

(Reporting by Joan Faus; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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