Open Arms: the egg on Spain’s face

The Spanish government treats NGO Proactiva Open Arms and its boat as if they were a political opponent

A day late and a dollar short. Spain’s reaction in the face of the Open Arms crisis was underwhelming and came too late, days after the situation onboard had escalated into a full-blown emergency, with some of the rescued migrants jumping into the sea off the island of Lampedusa (Italy) and attempting to swim ashore. Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez posted a message on Twitter (is there any way political leaders could drop their horrid, ludicrous, Twitter-based politicking?) advising the Catalan NGO that their boat would be welcome in the Spanish port of Algeciras. Thank goodness he did not direct them to Gran Canaria, where a massive forest fire is raging.

Later the Spanish government amended the PM’s original message, offering shelter at Spain’s ports nearest Lampedusa: Palma and Maó. But even that would be too late: only Lampedusa will do as a final destination for Open Arms. It’s either that, or sailing to the Balearics on a boat that is in better shape than theirs.

Spanish VP Carmen Calvo has spoken on behalf of her government in an attempt to justify their decision, muttering half-truths about complying with international law and treating Proactiva Open Arms and its boat as if they were a political opponent. First of all, it is Italy that has ignored the existing international laws on maritime rescue because of Salvini’s obstructionism. Secondly, the EU has twice been asked by David Sassoli, the president of the European Parliament, to take action in the matter as otherwise it would be violating the treaties. And yet the Open Arms boat remains anchored at sea with 107 migrants onboard, a stone throw’s away from the port where common sense dictates they should disembark to end a situation that is unbearable from a human point of view.

Meanwhile, Carmen Calvo —who has taken over from José Luis Ábalos as the Spanish cabinet’s crybaby— insists that Spain “can’t afford to send Europe and the world a certain message, when you consider how challenging our borders are”. It’s a pretty thought, coming from someone who was also the VP of the Spanish government that chose to welcome the Aquarius [a boat in similar circumstances] only a year earlier, just because it suited them politically at the time. It appears that Spain cannot send the world a strong message when it’s about a boat that is experiencing a humanitarian emergency (and flying Spain’s flag, by the way), but —for instance— it can take the lead in Europe when it comes to applauding Trump’s political meddling in Venezuela. Or ensuring that Spain’s foreign minister remains fully committed to fighting a political issue which is —supposedly— strictly an internal affair: the treacherous Catalan separatists.

As for Algeciras, the Open Arms rescue ship won’t fit in the port because it is crammed full of narco-boats, the drug-smuggling speed boats that the Spanish police —who have a blast beating up illegal immigrants when they jump the barb-wire walls along Spain’s challenging borders— don’t have the guts to chase after. Spain’s foreign policy has always been erratic and absurd, under PP and PSOE administrations: Spain is hired help working for the top world powers, but it tries to conceal this with Quixotic acts and uncalled-for displays of inflexibility.

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