The Latest: EU official welcomes deal on 49 rescued migrants
MADRID (AP) — The Latest on Europe’s migrant crisis (all times local):
The European Union’s top migration official has thanked EU countries for agreeing to host 49 rescued migrants stranded at sea but complained that it had taken much too long to find them safe harbor.
EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said Wednesday that “the past weeks have not been Europe’s finest hour.”
Avramopoulos said the fact that some of the migrants had to wait at sea for three weeks “is not what the European Union stands for.”
He underlined that Europe can’t count “on disorganized, ad hoc solutions” to manage such cases, and he called for the long-stalled reform of EU asylum rules to be concluded.
EU rules oblige countries where migrants first land to process any asylum claims, placing a heavy burden on Mediterranean states like Italy, Greece, Spain and Malta.
The 49 rescued migrants who were stranded at sea since last month will be brought to Malta and then distributed among eight European Union countries.
The deal, announced by Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, breaks a stalemate that began after 32 were rescued by a German aid group’s vessel on Dec. 22. The other 17 were rescued on Dec. 29 by a different aid boat. Both Italy and Malta have refused to let private rescue ships bring migrants to their shores.
Instead, the deal sees the migrants transferred soon on Maltese military vessels to bring them ashore, while the private boats won’t be allowed to dock.
The eight countries where the migrants will go are Germany, France, Portugal, Ireland, Romania, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Italy.
Spanish police say they have broken up a gang that smuggled people and drugs by boat from Morocco into Spain, charging migrants up to 2,000 euros ($2,300) a trip.
A police statement Wednesday said the group earned around 25,000 euros for each boat that made it across the Mediterranean, often carrying both people and hashish in the unsafe vessels.
Investigators estimate the gang had brought more than 500 migrants into southern Spain’s Andalucia region since last August. The gang took the arriving migrants by truck to safe houses.
The European Union’s border agency Frontex says about 57,000 migrant crossings were detected last year in Spain, double the figure for 2017.
Police say they arrested eight members of the gang, including four who are suspected of being the ringleaders in Spain.