Rescue ship Aquarius docks in Valencia after weeklong odyssey at sea

The first rays of dawn were just breaking through when the small speck was spotted in the Mediterranean’s turquoise waters off eastern Spain. It was the first of a three-vessel flotilla that for the past week has captured the world’s attention, triggering harsh words from European leaders, threatening to fracture alliances, provoking upheaval and illustrating how immigration, a polarizing topic in the U.S., is becoming the most fiery issue in Europe.

Shunned by other Mediterranean countries, the Aquarius rescue boat, accompanied by two Italian military vessels, was finally, after a week on the high seas, headed for port in Valencia, an elegant city famous for oranges, paella and its annual festival of Las Fallas, in which oversized effigies are set alight, covering the city in smoke. This weekend it was the site of a raucous gay pride festival with concerts and celebrations in all corners and spilling into the square in front of City Hall, which for days had been festooned with a banner: “Valencia: City of Refugees!”

On board the three ships were refugees from 26 countries escaping kidnappers, blackmailers, torturers, and groups such as ISIS and Boko Haram as well as poverty and chronic food shortages. Many of the 630 onboard, including 100 children and teenagers and seven pregnant women, had come from West and sub-Saharan Africa, some trekking for weeks, some paying to cross in open trucks, having been recruited by shady agencies for nonexistent jobs. Some of those who set out on the journey died along the way as they crossed deserts where temperatures sometimes reach 120 degrees.

Read more by Melissa Rossi for Yahoo News >>

Photography by José Colón for Yahoo News

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<p>The Aquarius enters the port of Valencia. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News) </p>
Refugees arrive in Valencia on board the Aquarius

The Aquarius enters the port of Valencia. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News)

<p>People gather holding a banner that reads “We do not want refugees” at the port of Valencia. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News) </p>
Refugees arrive in Valencia on board the Aquarius

People gather holding a banner that reads “We do not want refugees” at the port of Valencia. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News)

<p>Security patrols the docks awaiting the arrival of the rescue ship Aquarius. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News) </p>
Refugees arrive in Valencia on board the Aquarius

Security patrols the docks awaiting the arrival of the rescue ship Aquarius. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News)

<p>A ship from the Italian Coast Guard pulls into the port of Valencia. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News) </p>
Immigrants arrive in Valencia on board the Aquarius

A ship from the Italian Coast Guard pulls into the port of Valencia. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News)

<p>A woman takes a selfie holding a sign “There is no large enough flag to cover the shame of killing innocents” in support of the refugees. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News) </p>
Refugees arrive in Valencia on board the Aquarius

A woman takes a selfie holding a sign “There is no large enough flag to cover the shame of killing innocents” in support of the refugees. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News)

<p>Medical personnel stand at a dock awaiting the arrival of the Aquarius at the port of Valencia. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News) </p>
Refugees arrive in Valencia on board the Aquarius

Medical personnel stand at a dock awaiting the arrival of the Aquarius at the port of Valencia. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News)

<p>People await in a local square the arrival of refugees at the port of Valencia. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News) </p>
Refugees arrive in Valencia on board the Aquarius

People await in a local square the arrival of refugees at the port of Valencia. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News)

<p>A photographer edits photos after the Aquarius after arrived at the port of Valencia. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News) </p>
Refugees arrive in Valencia on board the Aquarius

A photographer edits photos after the Aquarius after arrived at the port of Valencia. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News)

<p>The rescue ship Aquarius is reflected in a camera after arriving at the port of Valencia. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News) </p>
Refugees arrive in Valencia on board the Aquarius

The rescue ship Aquarius is reflected in a camera after arriving at the port of Valencia. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News)

<p>Medical personnel and security stand on the dock awaiting the arrival of the Aquarius. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News) </p>
Refugees arrive in Valencia on board the Aquarius

Medical personnel and security stand on the dock awaiting the arrival of the Aquarius. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News)

<p>A ship from the Italian Coast Guard, seen through part of the infrastructure of the port of Valencia. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News) </p>
Refugees arrive in Valencia on board the Aquarius

A ship from the Italian Coast Guard, seen through part of the infrastructure of the port of Valencia. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News)

<p>Spain welcomes the refugees rescued by the Aquarius. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News) </p>
Refugees arrive in Valencia on board the Aquarius

Spain welcomes the refugees rescued by the Aquarius. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News)

<p>A ship from the Italian Coast Guard at a dock in the port of Valencia. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News) </p>
Refugees arrive in Valencia on board the Aquarius

A ship from the Italian Coast Guard at a dock in the port of Valencia. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News)

<p>A ship from the Italian Coast Guard begins to dock in the port of Valencia. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News) </p>
Refugees arrive in Valencia on board the Aquarius

A ship from the Italian Coast Guard begins to dock in the port of Valencia. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News)

<p>A television crew captures the arrival of a ship from the Italian Coast Guard. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News) </p>
Refugees arrive in Valencia on board the Aquarius

A television crew captures the arrival of a ship from the Italian Coast Guard. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News)

<p>Refugees rescued by the Aquarius depart the ship for solid ground. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News) </p>
Refugees arrive in Valencia on board the Aquarius

Refugees rescued by the Aquarius depart the ship for solid ground. (Photo: José Colón for Yahoo News)

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