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More than 1,200 people rescued off Spanish coast in two days

Spain working against clock to open centre in port of Andalusia with room for 600 people; Tunisia takes in 40
African migrants and local groups take part in welcoming party in Bilbao, Spain, on Saturday (Reuters)

Spain said on Saturday it had rescued more than 1,200 people from the sea in two days as the country's interior minister called for a Europe-wide solution to illegal immigration.

Fernando Grande-Marlaska said he had now seen "on the ground, the problems that exist, the problem of immigration which is a European problem which requires a European solution," after a visit to the southwestern Cadiz region.

The minister was on a fact-finding visit to learn how police and the Red Cross are dealing with the influx of migrants.

Earlier Saturday, the maritime rescue service said on Twitter it had rescued 334 people from 17 boats. On Friday, coastguards picked up 888 people in a single day.

More than 1.2 million migrants, many of them fleeing civil war in Syria, sectarian violence in Iraq or a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, arrived in Europe in 2015 and 2016. Last year the overall number dropped to little more than 700,000, according to Eurostat, Deutsche Welle reported. So far this year, just 55,000 migrants have arrived in Europe, less than half the number at this time last year, according to the UN migration agency.

Grande-Marlaska said the Spanish government was working against the clock to open "a centre" in the port of Andalusia with room for 600 people.

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Earlier this week, more than 600 African migrants reached the Spanish territory of Ceuta after storming a double border fence with Morocco and attacking police.

The scramble over the barbed wire-decked barrier on Thursday was the biggest in Ceuta since February 2017, when more than 850 migrants entered the Spanish overseas territory over four days.

The incident further increases pressure on Spain, which has now surpassed Italy as the number one destination for migrants crossing the Mediterranean by boat.

More than 19,580 people have landed on Spanish shores so far this year, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Tunisia takes in 40 people

Tunisia on Saturday said it would take in 40 people, including two pregnant women, rescued by a commercial vessel.

The ship, the Sarost 5, a Tunisian flagged supply boat, has been blocked for two weeks from docking off Zarzis in southern Tunisia.

"For humanitarian reasons, we will accept the 40 migrants," Prime Minister Youssef Chahed said in parliament.

The African migrants, five of whom are women, set off from Libya and were lost at sea for five days before being spotted.

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