Almost 600 migrants rescued off Spanish coast in less than 12 hours

Authorities say this is the largest figure in a single day this year, and that numbers are rising

Jesús A. Cañas
One of the vessels rescued on Wednesday.
One of the vessels rescued on Wednesday.Salvamento Marítimo

Spain is bracing itself for the arrival of greater numbers of migrants arriving on its shores, with more than 600 people having been rescued in the waters around the Straits of Gibraltar and the western edge of the Mediterranean in less than 12 hours on Wednesday, the largest number in a single day this year, according to official figures.

The number of arrivals has been increasing steadily over the last year and continue to rise through this summer. After several days of wind from the east that delayed the rickety fishing boats and dinghies used by migrants, on Wednesday, some 15 such vessels adrift in Spanish waters were rescued by the authorities. The decision by Spain to close its land crossing with Morocco at the exclave of Ceuta to goods traffic has likely prompted the spike in numbers in recent days.

This border was reopened on Thursday after being closed to merchandise for eight days over security concerns following a security breach which saw nearly 200 would-be migrants rushing through the gate in the early hours of Monday August 7.

Up to July 18, the number of migrants to make it to Spain by sea had risen to 7,547, from a total of 10,751 who had made it into Spanish territory by other means, mainly by crossing the borders at Ceuta and Melilla, in Morocco. This was a 104.2% increase on the same period in 2016.

When one route is closed, as has happened in Ceuta, then pressure increases on another Ana Rosado of NGO Pro-Human Rights Andalusia

In a report published earlier this week, Frontex, the EU’s border agency, said 2,300 migrants made it to Spain in July, more than four times as many as a year earlier. Arrivals in Spain in the first seven months were “around 11,000, already exceeding the number for all of 2016,” it said.

For the moment, the numbers are set to fall far short of the 39,180 migrants who arrived in Spain in 2006.

Spain’s Maritime Rescue, along with Civil Guard units, the Red Cross and other emergency services began their rescue work in the early hours of Wednesday morning coordinated from Tarifa and were kept busy until past midday.

Further east along the Mediterranean coast, more than 160 migrants were picked up off the coast of Almería.

Ana Rosado of local NGO Pro-Human Rights Andalusia confirmed that the 600 people rescued on Wednesday was the highest number so far this year.

“They are looking for ways to arrive and when one route is closed, as has happened with the closure of the border in Ceuta, then pressure increases on another,” said Rosado.

She also pointed out that many of the boats that arrived on Wednesday were wooden fishing vessels: “These are usually cases of people who between them have bought the boat,” rather than having paid the criminal gangs that make a living shipping people into Spanish waters.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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