Spain urges EU help with migrants as more rescued at sea

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MADRID (AP) — Spain’s maritime rescue service said Thursday it had rescued 208 migrants from the Mediterranean Sea in 24 hours, as a senior Spanish official renewed a plea for European Union countries to set aside their differences on the divisive migration issue.

Carmen Calvo, the government’s deputy prime minister, told the Spanish parliament that EU countries with no maritime border must share the burden of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to the continent from North Africa.

She said the EU needs to agree on “a formula for safe arrivals at ports and co-responsibility of (EU) countries.”

Similar pleas have been made in recent years, but to little effect.

Calvo was answering questions about a political and humanitarian stalemate earlier this month when Italian authorities refused to allow more than 80 migrants to disembark from a rescue ship run by a Spanish aid group.

The migrants spent 19 days on board the Open Arms ship amid worsening conditions as EU countries argued over how to handle their plight. Spain, Portugal, Germany, France and Luxembourg will be sharing out the migrants under an EU deal to end the standoff.

The migrant issue has dogged EU politics for years, and has led to the rise of anti-immigrant political groups. Spain has borne the brunt of EU migrant arrivals in recent years.

The Spanish maritime rescue service said the migrants it saved were in three boats and picked up in the so-called Alboran Sea, an area east of the Strait of Gibraltar and one of the most common routes for crossing to Europe from North Africa.

The migrants were taken to temporary handling facilities in Spain.

Spain and the EU has increased police cooperation with, and funding for, Moroccan authorities in an effort to stem the flow, with statistics indicating the effort is working.

Spain’s Interior Ministry says that by mid-August this year the number of migrants arriving by sea was down 42.5% compared to the same period last year — just under 14,600 compared with more than 25,300 in 2018.

The number of boats making the crossing fell from 1,054 to 542 over the same period.

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