Spain rescues 262 migrants off Canary Islands

MADRID (Reuters) -Spanish coast guards rescued 262 migrants in three boats trying to reach the Canary Islands in the early hours on Friday amid a surge in crossings, just as European leaders were meeting in Spain to look for ways to avoid a new migration crisis.

Italy and Spain have voiced concern over an increase in irregular immigration this year to their islands in the Mediterranean or in the Atlantic. Madrid has said it cannot cope with irregular immigration without help from the European Union.

Emergency services said they had brought 103 of the 262 rescued migrants to El Hierro, the westernmost and tiniest of the Canary Islands, which has received more than 1,200 migrants in the last six days alone.

The head of the Red Cross’ emergency unit in El Hierro, Inigo Vila, told reporters the organisation had to increase its resources to deal with the higher influx of people.

“We have reinforced our staff and equipment to be able to provide as much coverage as possible,” Vila said. “We have even reinforced with volunteer personnel from other islands that perhaps are not suffering the pressure El Hierro is suffering at the moment.”

The health service of El Hierro, which has just 11,000 residents, gets overwhelmed every time a boat arrives at the port, the head of the Canary Islands’ regional government, Fernando Clavijo, said on Thursday.

The other rescued migrants were taken to Los Cristianos port in Tenerife and Arguineguin in Gran Canaria.

The migrants were from sub-Saharan Africa, the emergency services said.

Migrant arrivals by sea to Spain have increased by a fifth so far this year compared to the same period in 2022, with more than 3,500 reaching the Canary Islands last month amid milder weather and calmer seas, official statistics showed.

The seven islands of the Atlantic archipelago have become the main destination for migrants trying to reach Spain. Others seek to cross the Mediterranean to the Spanish mainland.

(Reporting by Emma Pinedo, editing by Andrei Khalip, Gareth Jones and Nick Macfie)