Bad weather forces migrant ship detour in Mediterranean

The Spanish government said it is expecting ships carrying 630 migrants to arrive in the port of Valencia on Sunday morning instead of Saturday after bad weather forced the convoy to take a detour.

Arrival in Spain pushed to Sunday; France, Italy working to settle dispute

A migrant rests on the deck of the Aquarius as bad weather in the Mediterranean forced the ship to alter its route. (Reuters)

The Spanish government said it is expecting ships carrying 630 migrants to arrive in the port of Valencia on Sunday morning instead of Saturday after bad weather forced the convoy to take a detour.

SOS Mediterranee, the aid group that operates the Aquarius, said Thursday the Italian coast guard boat leading the convoy decided to skirt Sardinia's east coast after high waves caused exhausted migrants aboard to be seasick.

Spain offered safe harbour after Italy, which wants fellow European Union countries to do more, refused to do so. Malta also refused.

The ship rescued 229 migrants last week and took on 400 others saved by Italy's coast guard, navy and others.

SOS Mediterranee said men who were still on the deck of the Aquarius and exposed to the elements were dizzy and vomiting, and taken inside the ship to be treated for seasickness.

Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Carmen Calvo said the arrival of the migrants will be staggered, with a few hours in between the three ships, in order to allow the best medical, psychological and legal assistance by authorities and aid groups.

In televised remarks from Valencia, where Calvo was co-ordinating preparations for the arrival, the deputy prime minister said authorities will examine case by case if the migrants qualify for asylum according to the country's regulations.

Calvo said minors and women are a priority, especially those who may have been trafficked or exploited in their attempts to reach Europe.

"We want to offer them a respectful reception, efficient and tranquil after what they have been through," Calvo said, adding there would be no politicians waiting for them on arrival.

France, Italy work to settle spat

Meanwhile, European neighbours Italy and France tried to resolve their dispute as Pope Francis urged politicians everywhere to work together on helping refugees and respect their dignity.

Italy summoned France's envoy on Wednesday and demanded an apology from President Emmanuel Macron, who had said Rome's move to block the migrant rescue ship from its ports was an act of "cynicism and irresponsibility."

Macron, in a late Wednesday phone call with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, said he did not mean to offend "Italy and the Italian people," according to a statement.

The two leaders confirmed a lunch meeting for Friday to discuss "new initiatives" on immigration, a day after Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini announced an "axis" with Germany and Austria to fight illegal migration.

"France does not want escalation; it's counterproductive. We need to maintain dialogue," a source close to Macron said as the president visited the western town of Rochefort. However, the source added that Macron was not "taking back anything."

Salvini has vowed to continue to block foreign humanitarian boats from Italian ports as Europe wrestles with how to share the responsibility of handling migrants trying to enter the EU from war zones and poor countries, largely across Africa and the Middle East.

More than 1.8 million migrants have arrived in Europe since 2014, and Italy is now sheltering more than 170,000 asylum seekers, as well as an estimated 500,000 unregistered migrants. A European Union summit will discuss the bloc's asylum rules at the end of the month.

Pope calls for 'mindset change'

Pope Francis, who has made the defence of refugees a plank of his papacy, rebuked politicians for not respecting the dignity of migrants and demanded "a change in mindset."

The Pope also called for a multinational response to illegal migration because the problem often "exceeds the capacities and resources" of individual countries.

Francis issued a message to a Vatican-Mexican migration conference Thursday. It coincided with growing tensions in Europe over Italy's refusal to let a migrant rescue ship dock, forcing other European countries to take them in.

Francis didn't refer to the dispute in his message, but echoed Italy's longstanding complaint that it has largely been left alone to cope with the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have landed on its shores in recent years.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, said he was certain Italy would do its part, but said there must be a "common response to this problem so that Italy isn't left alone."

With files from Reuters