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MADRID – The Latest on migration into Europe (all times local):
Spain's Maritime Rescue Service says it has picked up 63 people trying to reach the country's southern Mediterranean coast while authorities look for another missing boat.
Saturday's rescues come as the Western Mediterranean route into Europe — both by sea and by land — has this year overtaken the arrivals from North Africa into Italy amid Rome's tightening policies on migration.
The rescue service says 58 migrants were found in the Strait of Gibraltar traveling in three boats that departed from North Africa.
Five more people were rescued further east into the Mediterranean Sea, near the province of Murcia. A rescue vessel and a helicopter were looking for another reported boat in the area.
A Spanish rescue boat has plucked 60 migrants from a patched-up rubber dinghy in the Mediterranean Sea near Libya, igniting another political row between Italy and Malta over who should let the aid boat dock.
The vessel, Open Arms, run by Spanish aid group Proactiva Open Arms, said it rescued the migrants Saturday — including five women, a nine-year-old child and three teenagers — after it spotted a rubber boat patched with duct tape floating in the sea. All the migrants appeared in good health.
Italy's right-wing Interior Minister Matteo Salvini quickly declared that the rescue boat "can forget about arriving in an Italian port" and claimed the boat should go to Malta, the nearest port.
But Malta swiftly pushed back, with its interior minister contending that the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, south of Sicily, was closer to the boat.
Even though the number of migrants arriving in Europe is sharply down this year from 2017, the topic of migration has deepened political divisions in the European Union.
The Open Arms is the third rescue ship operated by humanitarian groups in the central Mediterranean to come into the crosshairs of Italian Interior Minister Matteo's Salvini's crackdown in the last three weeks.
Salvini has vowed that no more humanitarian groups' rescue boats will dock in Italy. But cracks have started showing between the two parties in Italy's new populist coalition government over Salvini's hard-line approach.
Roberto Fico, president of Parliament's lower chamber and a leading figure in the 5-Star Movement, the ruling coalition's senior partner, told reporters after inspecting a migrant reception center in a Sicilian port town that "I wouldn't close the ports."
Fico told reporters that Libya now "isn't a place with security." He urged more solidarity toward the migrants, who he said have "dramatic stories that touch the heart."
While European politicians bickered, those migrants rescued Saturday by the Open Arms aid ship were jubilant, jumping, chanting and hugging their rescuers.
A 9-year-old boy's eyes sparkled when the Open Arms crew referred to him as "captain" after he was allowed to sit in the captain's seat on the bridge for a few minutes. Krisley Dokouada from Central African Republic was rescued along with his parents.
Others rescued Saturday included six Libyans and people from Mali, Eritrea, Egypt, Bangladesh, South Sudan and Guinea.
Saturday's successful rescue was witnessed by four European Parliament lawmakers aboard a companion vessel, the Astral. The lawmakers and an AP journalist then boarded the Open Arms to meet the migrants and rescue crew.
One lawmaker, Javi Lopez of Spain, said authorities in Spain were studying the possibility of taking in the migrants since Malta and Italy weren't providing safe harbor.
D'Emilio reported from Rome. Stephen Calleja in Malta and Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed.