Valencia, Spain – When Gima Ayele moved from Ethiopia to Valencia, he found the port city so hospitable that it remains his home 10 years later.
So when the 49-year-old industrial engineer heard that the MV Aquarius would arrive on Sunday, he went to the harbour to welcome the refugees and migrants on board.
The search and rescue boat, run by charities SOS Mediteranee and Doctors Without Borders (MSF), had held the world’s attention as it was stranded in the water for 36 hours between Italy and Malta, carrying 629 weak and tired refugees and migrants.
The ship – which has saved 30,000 people in 170 search and rescue operations since 2016 – had been banned from entering both countries after Matteo Salvini, Italy’s new, far-right interior minister, refused the boat docking rights.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez ended the cruel stalemate by offering safe harbour.
As the ship sailed in after its arduous 1,500km journey, Ayele and his family joined a demonstration by opponents of Spain’s migrant detention camps system.
A banner by the local government hovered above the rally, welcoming the city’s guests in five languages.
“[It’s important] to keep up their morale [and] to give thanks to the people of Spain and Valencia and those workers at risk on the ships,” Ayele told Al Jazeera.
“This is essential for humans. You don’t leave a man on the sea … first you rescue and then you will see how you want to help the person.”
|Volunteers with SOS Mediteranee, which operates the MV Aquarius jointly with MSF, watch as the ship enters Valencia harbour [Ruairi Casey/Al Jazeera]|
In the five days after Spain intervened in the political debacle, which saw European leaders criticisin