The Latest: Migrants reaching Spain by sea up 120 percent
VATICAN CITY (AP) — The Latest on the influx of migrants into Europe (all times local):
The Spanish government reports that the number of migrants reaching the country by sea is up more than 120 percent this year as the so-called Western Mediterranean route gained recognition as an alternative way to Europe.
Spain’s Maritime Rescue Service said it pulled 373 migrants from seven boats attempting to cross the Mediterranean on Friday.
Spanish authorities say the rescues occurred in the Strait of Gibraltar — the shortest route between the African and European continents in the western Mediterranean — and near Alboran Island, which lies about 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of the Moroccan coast.
The Spanish Interior Ministry says 14,446 migrants reached Spain during the first six months of 2018. Almost 6,300 of them arrived in June, when the weather was fair and seas were calm.
The U.N. refugee agency says that one out of every seven migrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya in traffickers’ unseaworthy boats perished at sea in June.
The high death rate comes even as the numbers of those reaching European shores after rescue at sea have sharply dropped this year compared to previous years.
Last month, Italy and Malta intensified crackdowns on private aid group rescue boats operating off Libya by either refusing them docking permission or blocking them from leaving ports where they had docked for supplies.
Carlotta Sami, a Rome-based UNHCR spokeswoman, called June’s mortality rate “dramatic and exceptional.” She noted that in 2017 on average only one in every 38 migrants attempting the crossing died.
U.N. officials cited the crackdown’s effects as well as the Libyan coast guard’s struggles to conduct rescues.
France’s Constitutional Council has issued a decision in the case of a farmer convicted for helping migrants who entered the country illegally, saying “fraternity” is a principle “of constitutional value” and should not be prosecuted.
French activist farmer Cedric Herrou had assisted some 200 migrants, housing some in his farm in the Alps’ Roya valley and others in a disused building, while also helping them travel in France. He was convicted last year of helping migrants illegally cross the border from Italy and given a suspended four-month prison sentence and a fine.
The Council’s decision issued Friday said France’s motto of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” meant there was freedom “to assist others for a humanitarian purpose” regardless of the legality of their presence in the country.
Pope Francis is celebrating a special Mass for migrants in St. Peter’s Basilica, calling attention to their plight and inviting them to the Vatican as Europe, the U.S. and other countries increasingly close their doors to them.
Several migrants and representatives of aid groups that care for them were among the guests at the intimate Mass marking the fifth anniversary of Francis’ landmark visit to Lampedusa, the Sicilian island that for years was the primary destination of migrants smuggled from Libya.
During that trip the new pope denounced what he called the “globalization of indifference” shown by the world to migrants escaping war, poverty and climate-induced natural disasters.