Spanish town acting as 'rear guard' for charity boats rescuing migrants

BURRIANA, Spain (Reuters) - A short drive north of Spain's coastal city of Valencia, the port of Burriana has become a safe haven for charity boats from around Europe that rescue migrants from the Mediterranean Sea.

Since 2021, local nongovernmental organisation L'Aurora Support Group assists charity boats that dock for days or weeks in the town of 30,000 people for maintenance work, food and equipment re-supplies and crew changes between missions.

In Burriana, crews also receive emotional support from a friendly community after their involvement in the nerve-wrecking rescues of people who cram into dinghies from northern Africa to reach European shores.

Around 48,000 irregular border crossings were detected on the Mediterranean in the period from January to May, according to the latest data available by EU border agency Frontex.

L'Aurora's coordinator, Vicent Aleixandre, said his operation represented the "rear guard" of charity boats' missions.

"It is where all these boats are prepared, where training is done and where future plans are being developed to improve their work," he told Reuters this week as his team attended to boats from Spain's Open Arms and Germany's Sea-Eye NGOs.

Valva Guardiola, a 68-year-old retiree who is among L'Aurora's more than 100 volunteers, said her experience has been inspiring.

"I never thought that there were people so nice and so supportive as to leave the places where they live, places in comfortable developed Europe, to come to help these people who have nothing in the world but their lives," she said.

The "Sea-Eye 4" vessel, which has "Leave no one to die" emblazoned on its hull, was resupplied with food, clothes and petrol before departing.

"We would like a lot more Burrianas to enable us to go back and forth into the Mediterranean as much as possible, and shorten the time we have between missions," said its head of mission, Julie Schweickert.

(This story has been refiled to correct the names to Aleixandre, not Alexander, in paragraph 5, and Valva, not Balba, in paragraph 7)

(Reporting by Eva Manez and Horaci Garcia; Writing by Joan Faus; Editing by Aislinn Laing and Rod Nickel)