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Migrants' heroine faces jail for people smuggling

January 30, 2018 4:23 pm

A Spanish woman has been credited with saving the lives of thousands of migrants crossing the Strait of Gibraltar to get to Europe. So why is she now facing a lengthy prison sentence?

When Helena Maleno gets the call, she does not think twice.

As soon as she has been told that a boat has set forth into the treacherous waters of the Strait of Gibraltar, she alerts the emergency services.

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Based in Tangier for the past 16 years, Ms Maleno, who heads a non-governmental organisation called Walking Borders, monitors the movement of migrants and helps to call rescuers if they get into danger as they cross from Morocco to Spain.

Her actions have made her a heroine to thousands of African immigrants trying travel to Europe.

“I am not exaggerating when I say that she is probably the person who has saved most lives in the Strait – at least 10,000,” says Captain Miguel Zea, chief of the Maritime Rescue centre in the Spanish coastal city of Almería.

“She is providential for our work.”

But Ms Maleno’s activity on what she refers to as Europe’s “southern border” has also earned her enemies.

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