Spain sees 25 percent drop in illegal immigration
The number of illegal immigrants who tried to enter Spain by land, sea and air in 2008 dropped 25 percent.MADRID - The number of illegal immigrants who tried to enter Spain by land, sea and air in 2008 dropped 25 percent to around 37,000 last year due to stepped up vigilence and cooperation with source nations, the interior ministry said Monday.
The number of migrants who arrived by boat fell to 13,424 last year from 18,057 in 2007, with the drop felt strongly in the Canary Islands which has become a magnet in recent years for African migrants aspiring to reach Europe.
Last year 9,181 migrants arrived in the Atlantic Ocean archipelago, compared to 12,478 in 2007 and 31,678 in 2006, the ministry said in a statement.
Each year hundreds of migrants seeking to enter Europe drown or die of thirst, hunger or exposure while attempting to reach Spain by sailing in simple wooden boats from west and north Africa.
Illegal immigration routinely tops the list of voters' main concerns and the Spanish government has worked with other European Union nations to increase air and sea patrols and it has signed repatriation agreements with several African nations that have made it easier to send back clandestine migrants.
"Almost nobody enters without us seeing," Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba told a news conference called to unveil the figures.
Last year an EU-funded satellite system called Sea Horse began operating which allows police to track immigrant vessels as they head up the Atlantic coast of Africa towards Europe.
The information is centralised in the Canary Island capital of Las Palmas and distributed to police forces in Spain and Portugal as well as Cape Verde, Mauritania and Senegal in Africa. Gambia, Guinea-Bissau and Morocco will join the network this year.
The government has also increased the number of security forces dedicated specifically to controlling Spain's borders and fighting illegal immigration to 15,700 at the end of last year from 10,239 at the end of 2003.
Spain deported 10,616 illegal immigrants who were working in Spain in 2008, a 12.1 percent increase over the previous year, the interior ministry said.