MADRID — Spanish coastguards rescued 401 migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean over the first two days of the new year, they said on Wednesday.
The news comes just days after a charity rescue vessel carrying 311 mainly African migrants plucked off the coast of Libya docked in Spain, ending a traumatic journey which saw them spend Christmas at sea.
A spokeswoman for Spain’s coastguards told AFP they had rescued 111 migrants on Tuesday in the Strait of Gibraltar and Alboran Sea. She added 290 more were rescued on Wednesday.
Spain has become Europe’s main entry point for migrants, overtaking Greece and Italy.
According to the International Organisation for Migration’s (IOM) latest figures, more than 56,000 migrants arrived in Spain by sea from January 1 to December 19, 2018, and 769 died attempting to do so.
The Spanish Committee for Refugee Aid says the number of victims is the highest since 2006.
This sea route to Europe is not the deadliest -- at least 1,278 migrants died in 2018 trying to reach Italy and Malta -- but it is the busiest, according to the IOM.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands announced on Wednesday it was prepared to welcome some of the 32 migrants waiting to disembark from a Dutch-flagged vessel in the Mediterranean, if other countries did the same.
"The Netherlands has indicated a readiness to possibly take in a proportional number of migrants who are on board Sea-Watch 3, on condition that other European countries do the same," said security and justice ministry spokesman Lennart Wegewijs.
And late on Wednesday, Malta’s navy announced that authorities would allow two German NGO ships -- the Sea-Watch 3 and Sea-Eye -- carrying migrants to "take shelter" in Maltese waters due to the deteriorating conditions on board.
The Dutch had at first joined Italy, Malta and Spain in refusing to accept the migrants who were rescued on December 22 by Sea-Watch 3, which is operated by a German charity.
The 32 migrants on the Sea-Watch 3 who were plucked from a makeshift boat in international waters, include three young children, three unaccompanied adolescents and four women from Nigeria, Libya and Ivory Coast.
The Sea-Eye has been stranded in the Mediterranean with 17 migrants on board. — AFP