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Spain comes to rescue of 267 migrants afloat in small boats

MADRID--Spain's coastguard said it had rescued 267 sub-Saharan African migrants on Monday, including 39 women and three children who were among those trying to reach Spanish soil on a flotilla of small boats.

The migrants were picked up in the Strait of Gibraltar and taken to Tarifa, Spain's southernmost port, a spokesman for the coastguard told AFP.

Two coastguard boats backed by a helicopter patrolled the narrow straight that separates Spain from Morocco throughout the day to look for migrants.

Police wearing plastic gloves and medical masks helped escort the migrants, who were covered in red blankets, off the boats when they arrived at Tarifa.

Over the weekend, Spanish rescue services picked up another 68 African migrants who were trying to reach Spain in several other boats as traffickers took advantage of calm summer seas.

Thousands of undocumented migrants from Africa try to cross the 15-kilometer (nine-mile) strait from Morocco to Spain on makeshift boats and inflatable dinghies each year.

Some travel thousands of miles overland, being handed from smuggler to smuggler, ending up at one of many ports in northern Africa for a cramped and treacherous sea crossing to European soil.

Thousands of migrants also try to enter Spanish soil overland by scaling the border fences that surround Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish territories that share a border with Morocco and that have the European Union's only land borders with Africa.

Spain is just one of the southern European countries facing a mounting influx of African migrants and asylum-seekers.

The Italian navy said Monday it had rescued more than 2,000 migrants over the weekend from boats in the Mediterranean, bringing the number it has brought ashore this year to nearly 100,000.

It said the latest arrivals included 94 migrants crammed into a 30-meter (98-foot) long sailing boat intercepted off the coast of Calabria by the coast guard, which arrested three Turkish men on board on suspicion of human trafficking.

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