Over 500 migrants reached Spain’s Canary Islands in six large wooden boats over the past 24 hours after traversing the perilous Atlantic route from west Africa, the country’s maritime rescue service said on Friday.
Their arrival came as European Union leaders met in Granada in southern Spain, with the thorny issue of migration in focus due to the recent surge in arrivals on the Italian island of Lampedusa.
Three boats carrying a total of 275 people arrived at El Hierro, the smallest and most westerly of the Canary Islands, a spokeswoman for Spain’s maritime rescue service said.
Another two boats arrived in Tenerife and one boat arrived on Gran Canaria with a total of 243 people, bringing the total number of migrants who reached the archipelago on the six boats to 518, she added.
The Canaries have experienced a surge in migrant arrivals in recent days as smugglers take advantage of calm weather to try to ferry people to the archipelago, located in the Atlantic Ocean off the northwest coast of Africa.
At their nearest point, the islands are 100 kilometres (60 miles) from Morocco.
A boat carrying 280 migrants landed on El Hierro on Tuesday, the largest number to arrive in the archipelago in a single vessel.
Over 1,200 migrants have arrived over the past week on the tiny island, which is home to 11,000 people, overwhelming its social services, officials said.
Juan Miguel Padron, the mayor of El Pinar near the port which has received the migrant boats, told Spanish public television “all the nurses and doctors” in the town had been pulled away to deal with the influx.
Spanish authorities transferred some 500 migrants from El Hierro to Tenerife overnight on Thursday.
In recent years, the migratory route to the Canary Islands has been particularly busy due to tighter controls in the Mediterranean Sea.
Shipwrecks are frequent, as the crossing is particularly dangerous.
The Canaries saw 14,976 migrants arrive between January 1 and September 30, an increase of 19.8 percent compared to the same period in 2022, according to the latest figures from Spain’s interior ministry.