Spanish maritime rescue of migrants jumps 55% in 2014
Spain's maritime rescue services last year came to the aid of 3,500 migrants found on boats off the country's coast, the government said Wednesday, a 55-percent increase from the previous year.
A total number of 2,253 people were rescued in 2013, according to a spokesman for the maritime service.
Despite the dangers involved, thousands of migrants fleeing war and hardship try to cross the 15-kilometre (nine-mile) Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco to Spain on makeshift boats and inflatable dinghies each year, making Spain one of the main entry points into Europe for illegal migrants.
A record 348,000 migrants and refugees took to leaky boats in 2014 in search of a better life in Europe, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Middle East, 4,272 of them dying in the process, according to the UN refugee agency.
Most of these were in the Mediterranean, where more than 207,000 made the crossing since January 2014, almost three times the previous high of 70,000 during the Libyan civil war in 2011. A record 3,419 lost their lives.
For the first time in decades, almost half of those hoping to make it to Europe are refugees rather than economic migrants, including 60,051 Syrians and 34,561 Eritreans.
The United Nations has described the Mediterranean Sea as the deadliest route in the world.
Many of those crossing the Mediterranean are towed on overcrowded boats behind "mother ships", which abandon them miles off the coast off Italy to either drown or to be rescued.
© 2015 AFP