0104 GMT September 23, 2019
The Italian coast guard vessel Dattilo was the first of the three boats bearing the 630 migrants to touch land just before 7 a.m. Sunday. The 270 migrants on board soon began to disembark after medical staff had made a preliminary inspection, AP reported.
The rescue ship Aquarius came in four hours later with another 106 migrants. Aid workers awaiting their arrival clapped and cheered as the first migrants walked down the gangway. Another Italian navy ship, the Orione, came in shortly after 1 p.m.
The Aquarius, operated by the aid groups SOS Mediterranee Sea and Doctors Without Borders, was stuck off the coast of Sicily on June 9 when Italy refused it permission to dock and demanded that Malta do so. Malta also refused.
After days of bickering and food and water running low on the ship, Spain stepped in and granted the rescue boat entry. The 1,500-kilometer (930-mile) journey across the Mediterranean from Sicily to Valencia took nearly a week.
David Noguera, the head of Doctors Without Borders in Spain, said he was glad that Spain allowed the migrants in but he's worried that more European nations will close their ports to those rescued at sea in the future.
The migrants were met by emergency workers, health officials, Red Cross volunteers and psychologists at the city's marina. Each were assigned to a translator and authorities worked to determine their identities before they were sent to welcome centers.
Valencia emergency official Jorge Suarez said some of the migrants were in a state of shock.
Due to their ordeal, the migrants from the Aquarius have been granted special authorization to remain in Spain for 45 days before they must begin resolving their legal situation.
"We have to strike a balance between our sensibilities and humanity and our respect for the law," said Spain's Migration Minister Magdalena Valerio.
The migrants reportedly include 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 children and as many as seven pregnant women. After Spain invited the Aquarius to land, Italy sent the Dattilo and Orione to help transport the migrants.
The refusal by Italy and Malta to allow the Aquarius to dock has reignited a continent-wide battle over how to handle immigration.
Immigration will be a top issue at the EU leaders' June 28-29 summit. In addition, a new populist government in Italy — one whose interior minister has vowed to deport tens of thousands of migrants as soon as he can — will make any compromises on EU migration policy even more difficult.