Spanish mayor claims his city can’t cope with new arrivals after NGO ship allowed to dock with 87 migrants

An NGO rescue ship carrying 87 migrants docked in the Spanish port of Algeciras on Thursday amid protest from the city’s mayor that it did not have the resources to cope with the new arrivals.

José Ignacio Landaluce, the conservative mayor of the Andalusian city, said Madrid had neither consulted or even informed him of the arrival of the Open Arms, which had been turned away by Italy after rescue operations in the central Mediterranean. 

Demanding that Pedro Sanchez, the prime minister, visit Algeciras to “see the reality” of the migration crisis, Mr Landaluce, of the opposition Popular Party,  told radio station Onda Cero that local authorities had not received “even a dime” from the central government.

"The Spanish have big hearts, yes, but on this issue we have to use our heads because there is not enough money," said the mayor, who last month warned Algeciras could become "a new Lampedusa".

In July, Spain overtook Italy to become the largest European gateway for migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea, with 23,741 arriving on its shores so far this year – almost triple the same period in 2017 – according to the International Organisation for Migration. 

Officials and analysts attribute the surge primarily to the crackdown on the Central Mediterranean crossing from Libya to Italy, which has pushed migrants towards the alternative Western Mediterranean route from Morocco to Spain.

In the face of a ban on NGO rescue ships by Italy’s new populist, anti-immigration interior minister, Matteo Salvini, Spain has now also repeatedly stepped into the breach since it first offered safe harbour to the Aquarius and its 630 migrants in June.

However previous offers were made in agreement with city governments in Valencia and Barcelona, where the Open Arms is based. 

Authorities in Andalusia, meanwhile, are already struggling to cope with a dramatic uptick in migrant rafts crossing from Morocco, with reception centres overflowing and new arrivals forced to sleep on police station patios or even on the decks of boats. NGOs say Spain’s asylum system is completely collapsed – a claim the central government has denied – while local governments have been emitting increasingly desperate calls for assistance.

Mr Landaluce said Algeciras did not have the money to cope with "an Aquarius every day", noting the area’s high levels of unemployment and the needs of those arriving. 

"I don’t want a social imbalance to be created, here we live in peace and harmony and there are no tensions," he said.

The mayor demanded to know Madrid’s plans for dealing with the crisis, and that the government press harder in Europe for a common migration policy. 

On Tuesday, Spain’s foreign minister, Josep Borrell, accused Mr Salvini of "playing politics at the cost of not only Spain but the whole of Europe".

Mr Salvini hit back, claiming Spain favoured "out of control immigration". 

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