The Spanish maritime rescue service has rescued more than 200 migrants from Mediterranean waters in the past 24 hours. The rescue comes at the same time as Spain is getting ready to welcome 15 migrants it picked up from Sicily using a naval warship.
The Spanish coast guard said the migrants from sub-Saharan Africa were found in three separate rafts and were picked up in the Alboran Sea, east of the Strait of Gibraltar between northeastern Morocco and southeastern Spain. This is one of the most commonly used routes used among refugees and migrants crossing into Europe from North Africa.
The operation started on Wednesday afternoon and lasted hours. Upon arrival in Spain, the migrants were taken to temporary handling facilities in Almeria and Malaga, the coast guard said.
The rescue comes as Spain is preparing for the arrival of 15 migrants on a Spanish warship from an Italian port after a prolonged stand-off between Italian authorities and a Spanish-registered humanitarian ship, the Open Arms, which had rescued around 150 mostly African migrants at the beginning of August.
Stand-off between Italy and Spain
Madrid had dispatched the navy ship a week ago to pick up the small group of migrants. While France, Germany, Luxembourg, Portugal and Romania agreed to take the rest of the migrants from the Open Arms, Spain sent a ship after trading angry words with Rome over Italy's refusal to accept any of the migrants.
Italy continues to deny port access to any non-government rescue ship, accusing them of inadvertently helping people smugglers by providing an incentive for migrants to embark on dangerous sea journeys. Italy only grants a safe harbor to government rescue vessels.
Private rescue vessels are only allowed to dock and bring migrants ashore if other European nations commit to take them.
Number of arrivals in Spain declining
Spain's Interior Ministry said that the number of migrants arriving there by sea was down by 42.5% by mid-August 2019 compared to the same period last year. In the first eight months of 2018, more than 25,000 migrants had docked in Spain. In 2019, less than 15,000 migrants had arrived in Spain using the Mediterranean sea route by mid-August.
Also, during the same period, the number of boats making the dangerous crossing fell from 1,054 to 542 compared to the previous year.
The total number of migrants arriving in Spain has also decreased, according to data from the interior ministry. A total of 18,018 migrants have reportedly arrived in Spain thus far this year by mid-August, marking a decrease of 39% from the same period last year.