Italy to help ferry rejected migrants reach Spain as EU partners bicker

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The Italian government replied in a statement Tuesday that the country "cannot accept hypocritical lessons from countries that have always preferred to look the other way on immigration."

The 629 rescued men, women, and children come from countries including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cameroon, and Nigeria, according to RAI public broadcaster.

Italy on Sunday refused to let the Aquarius dock on its shores, sparking a row among European member states. Some, like Spain and France, slammed Italy's decision while others, such as Austria and Hungary, praised it.

ROME, June 12 (Xinhua) -- A humanitarian migrant-rescue NGO said Tuesday a refugee ship will head to Spain with help from Italy, which will provide Coast Guard and navy ships to help transport 629 asylum seekers that were rescued from international waters off Libya last week.

Meanwhile, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, tweeted that he plans to travel to Libya by the end of the month because "this situation must be resolved directly within the African continent".

He was echoed by EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos. "The incident in the Mediterranean with the Aquarius vessel... has reminded us once again that migration is not just a theoretical discussion," he told the European Commission on Tuesday.

"No one believes this is an Italian responsibility" but rather "a European issue, requiring a European response," said Avramopoulos, who proposed to triple the funding for migration and border management to almost 35 billion euros (over 41 billion U.S. dollars) for 2021-2027, compared to 13 billion euros in the previous period.

"We must save Europe," Tajani told RAI. "If there is no common agreement the entire European Union is in danger."

"Our policy and budget for migration, asylum and borders need to be flexible and effective, but equally fair and proportionate," Avramopoulos tweeted.

"This incident tells us that we must intervene immediately," European Parliament chief Antonio Tajani, who is Italian, told RAI in an interview.

"We cannot continue the political ping-pong of who is responsible. Because we all are: the EU as a whole with all Member States."

Meanwhile, EU officials warned that this issue can make or break the Union.

A total of 14,441 migrants have reached Italy as of June 12 this year, down 77.45 percent compared to the same period in 2017, according to the interior ministry.

"Thanks to Italy, Europe is finally changing: we must protect our borders in order to defend our citizens," tweeted Salvini.

"After 36 hours of standby in international waters 27 nautical miles from (the island nation of) Malta and 35 miles from Sicily, Aquarius has received official instructions to reach safe harbor" in Valencia, said the NGO, which is made up of associations from France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland.

Tajani said the EU must reform its so-called Dublin Agreement, which says that asylum seekers must apply for protection in the country of first arrival. This means Italy and Greece bear the brunt of the migrant crisis, because their southernmost islands are the first landfall for people fleeing from North Africa and the Middle East.

The Aquarius ship run by SOS Mediterranee NGO confirmed Tuesday it has been told to reach the Spanish port city of Valencia, which is 7300 nautical miles and over three days' voyage away from its present location.