The number of people fleeing poverty and conflict by boat to Spain doubled last year and is likely to rise again in 2018, according to the EU border agency, potentially pushing migration up the national political agenda, Reuters reported.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has already made migrant-friendly moves in his first two weeks on the job, offering to take in the rescue ship Aquarius with 629 people on board and pledging free healthcare to undocumented migrants.
The coast guard said on Twitter it had rescued 507 people from 59 small dinghies in the Strait of Gibraltar, where it also found the four bodies.
All the other rescues happened in the Alboran Sea, between northeastern Morocco and southeastern Spain.
A European challenge
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted migration is an issue that demands a European solution, giving no ground in a showdown with her Bavarian allies that threatens her three-month-old coalition, Reuters reported.
The row is over Merkel’s rejection of plans by Interior Minister Horst Seehofer, from Bavaria, for Germany unilaterally to send back migrants who have registered in other European Union countries.
Such a reversal of her 2015 open-door migrant policy would be a huge blow to the authority of Merkel, in power for more than 12 years, and undermine the Schengen open-border system at a time when EU tensions over migration are running high.
In her weekly podcast, three days before talks between Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron outside Berlin, the chancellor hammered home her stance:
“This is a European challenge that also needs a European solution. And I view this issue as decisive for keeping Europe together,” she said.
Merkel wants two weeks to try to strike bilateral deals with partners, such as Italy and Greece, on migrants and to make progress at an EU summit on June 28-29 on an EU-wide policy.