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Spain Welcomes Migrant Rescue Ship That Italy Turned Away


Hundreds of migrants out on the Mediterranean were told by two European countries that they were not wanted. The migrants, mostly from North Africa, were rescued by a nonprofit group. But both Italy and Malta refused to allow them to dock. Now they're on their way to Spain. Dr. David Beversluis from Doctors Without Borders is on the Aquarius, one of the ships carrying the migrants. I asked how they're doing.

DAVID BEVERSLUIS: Many of these migrants came out of fairly difficult conditions. (Inaudible) On rubber rafts for hours. Some of them were transferred, initially, from Italian coast guard ships to our ship and then some of them back. Now, of course, we have 106 migrants remaining on our ship - asylum-seekers remaining on our ship. And, you know, they're stressed out. They're tired. It's been a very long last several days. And it's continuing for the next several days, at least until we arrive in Spain.

GREENE: How is their health holding up? I mean, are you dealing with people that really need medical attention?

BEVERSLUIS: Well, you know, we're fortunate to have a fairly good medical team here on the ship. We're a medical NGO, and we have good capability. Right now, there's nobody who's critical. But, you know, as the doctor here on the ship, I'm definitely concerned about ongoing attention to people's health. We have quite a few people with chemical burns. And so we're doing a lot of wound care. We're also focusing on keeping people rested, hydrated. You know, there is a high risk of sun exposure out here, so we have everybody under shade netting. You know, so this is things that we have to be really careful about on a boat like this. You know, the waves are also starting to pick up a little bit. And so I expect today, we'll start having a little bit more issues with seasickness as well.

GREENE: Did you say chemical burns?

BEVERSLUIS: Yeah, absolutely. So a lot of these people come in fairly unstable rafts. And what happens is there's a mix of gasoline and water that collects in the bottom of the raft. And people will sit in there - packed in in this toxic mix for many hours. You end up with these second-degree burns, where the skin is broken down and exposed. It's really pretty horrible and painful.

GREENE: Can I just ask you - I mean, the Italian government, I know they've been sending help. But Italy turned your boat away and said you could not come. There's a new government there that campaigned on the idea that Italy has carried too much of the responsibility of taking in migrants, that other countries should share some of that. Do you understand their position?

BEVERSLUIS: Well, you know, I mean, for us, it's extremely frustrating. To me - of course, Europe needs to have a system that accepts asylum-seekers. And the system is broken. But at the same time, there is not an adequate search and rescue response focused on saving lives in the southern part of the Mediterranean. And, you know, we had 629 vulnerable people on board. Now all of these people are moving days away from the nearest port of safety. And it's really, you know, an unnecessary and frustrating extra political step. You know, we're shuffling people around, and we're doing this in order to score political points when, really, the most important thing is the safety, the dignity and the wellbeing of the people.

GREENE: Dr. Beversluis, thank you very much for your time and safe journeys as you head on to Spain.

BEVERSLUIS: Yeah, thank you very much.

GREENE: Dr. David Beversluis from Doctors Without Borders. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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