The Moroccan navy has rescued 242 migrants trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Spain in dinghies.
The migrants from sub-Sarahan Africa were traveling in several inflatable dinghies when they experienced difficulties in the Strait of Gibraltar, which separates the continent from Europe, Morocco’s official news agency (MAP) reported late on Friday.
The navy provided the migrants with medical care onboard and took them back to Morocco, MAP added.
Some 50 women and 12 minors were among those on board the boats.
Shortest route to Europe
Morocco is a primary gateway for thousands of Africans seeking to reach Europe. At its narrowest point, the Strait of Gibraltar is 14 kilometers (9 miles) wide.
Most migrants trying to reach Spain do so by sea, but there have been several incidents where migrants have scaled the border fences between Morocco and Spain’s North African exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
As the European Union’s only territories on the African continent, migrants can claim asylum in either exclave.
So far this year, more than 15,000 people have made it to Spain, according to estimates from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). However, more than 200 have died in the attempt.
Migrant sinking off Libya
On Thursday, an overloaded boat carrying some 400 migrants sank off Libya’s coast.
The coast guard rescued 145 people from the scene near the port city of Khoms. Sixty-two bodies were subsequently pulled from the water.
Libya said most of those rescued were from Eritrea although Palestinians and Sudanese nationals were also on board.
The head of the UN refugee agency, Filippo Grandi, called the wreck “the worst Mediterranean tragedy of this year.”
Libya is the more significant transit point for migrants wishing to reach Europe.
In an effort to curb human trafficking and halt the migrant influx, the European Union last year gave Libya €318 million ($354 million). Morocco, meanwhile, received €140 million.
The overall number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean has fallen by 65% from 326,000 in 2016 to 117,000 last year.