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Europe's age of Aquarius

Aquarius pull into port in Valencia. Photo: Pau Barrena/AFP/Getty Images

The Aquarius migrant rescue ship made headlines across Europe in June when Italy refused entry to it and the 630 rescued migrants on board. Now, it's back.

The bottom line: The Aquarius, the only rescue ship now patrolling the waters off Libya, will keep returning to a continent that's still in search of a burden-sharing solution on migration. It’s both a moral dilemma and a serious political problem.  

  • In June, Spain’s newly elected government came to the rescue by opening a port and accepting the passengers. The story was a political winner at home for both Italy’s Interior Minister Salvini, who said no, and Spain’s new prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, who said yes. 
  • Last week, the ship run by humanitarian organizations Doctors Without Borders and SOS Méditerranée was carrying 141 migrants, including 67 unaccompanied children, rescued in international waters. Italy and Libya again refused entry, and this time Spain also said no. After a four-day standoff, Malta accepted the ship, but only after France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain agreed to accept a share of the 141 rescued passengers. 

What to watch: With Italy literally offering radio silence in response to requests for help, Spain will again be in the spotlight. Does Sánchez want Spain to become the haven that accepts the rescued migrants that other EU countries reject? If not, what happens to these people?  

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