Spanish coastguards rescue 400 migrants trying to cross Mediterranean in first two days of 2019

Hundreds of people saved within first hours of new year on main sea crossing route into Europe

Tom Barnes
Thursday 03 January 2019 14:01 GMT
A day rescuing refugees from the Mediterranean Sea

The Spanish coastguard says it has rescued more than 400 migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea within the first two days of 2019.

Authorities picked up 290 people from five boats attempting to make the crossing into Europe in the Alboran Sea and the Strait of Gibraltar on Wednesday.

On New Year’s Day, 111 people had been pulled from three boats within the space of around nine hours, Spanish state broadcaster RTVE reported.

The rescues in the first days of 2019 followed a year in which Spain became the main entry route by sea for migrants attempting to reach Europe.

The Spanish Commission for Refugee Aid reported that more than 56,000 people made the crossing during 2018, while 769 died trying to reach the Spanish coast.

However, the route across the Alboran Sea is by no means the most deadly – 1,306 people were killed attempting to reach Italy or Malta through the central Mediterranean last year, according to figures from the International Organisation for Migration.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated more than 2,240 people died or went missing crossing the Mediterranean in 2018.

UNHCR officials called on Monday for a safe port to be urgently found for two vessels carrying almost 50 refugees and migrants blocked from docking in both Italy and Malta.

Rescue ship Sea Watch 3 has been unable to dock since picking up 32 people in the Mediterranean on 22 December, while a further 17 have been aboard the German-registered Sea Eye since 29 December.

The UNHCR warned “time is increasingly of the essence” as sea conditions in the area continued to worsen.

“Decisive leadership is required, in line with fundamental values of humanity and compassion, to offer safe disembarkation and bring the 49 safely to land,” said Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR special envoy for the central Mediterranean.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

“Negotiations on which states will subsequently receive them must come only after they are safely ashore.”

Meanwhile, home secretary Sajid Javid has come under fire for suggesting the British government will do “everything we can” to prevent migrants rescued crossing the English Channel from claiming asylum in the UK.

Mr Javid also claimed many of those making the journey during a series of dinghy crossings over the Christmas period may not have been “genuine asylum seekers” because they had travelled from France.

“We need to send a strong message that these gangs that are preying on [migrants] and selling a false prospectus – they won’t succeed,” he said.

“If you do somehow make it to the UK, we will do everything we can to make sure that you are often not successful because we need to break that link, and to break that link means we can save more lives.”

Mr Javid’s remarks have received criticism in some quarters, with shadow home secretary Diane Abbott insisting it was not for the home secretary himself to determine who is a genuine asylum seeker, while Labour MP Stella Creasy branded his comments “utterly disgusting”.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in