The Latest: Malta announces deal on 49 stranded migrants

MADRID (AP) — The Latest on Europe’s migrant crisis (all times local):

12 p.m.

The 49 rescued migrants who were stranded at sea since last month will be brought to Malta and then distributed among eight European Union countries.

The deal, announced by Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, breaks a stalemate that began after 32 were rescued by a German aid group’s vessel on Dec. 22. The other 17 were rescued on Dec. 29 by a different aid boat. Both Italy and Malta have refused to let private rescue ships bring migrants to their shores.

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Instead, the deal sees the migrants transferred soon on Maltese military vessels to bring them ashore, while the private boats won’t be allowed to dock.

The eight countries where the migrants will go are Germany, France, Portugal, Ireland, Romania, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Italy.

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11:50 a.m.

Spanish police say they have broken up a gang that smuggled people and drugs by boat from Morocco into Spain, charging migrants up to 2,000 euros ($2,300) a trip.

A police statement Wednesday said the group earned around 25,000 euros for each boat that made it across the Mediterranean, often carrying both people and hashish in the unsafe vessels.

Investigators estimate the gang had brought more than 500 migrants into southern Spain’s Andalucia region since last August. The gang took the arriving migrants by truck to safe houses.

The European Union’s border agency Frontex says about 57,000 migrant crossings were detected last year in Spain, double the figure for 2017.

Police say they arrested eight members of the gang, including four who are suspected of being the ringleaders in Spain.

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