W.Sahara immigrants seek asylum in Spain

7th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

A group of 20 immigrants from Western Sahara who arrived in Spain illegally by boat have requested political asylum from Madrid, the Spanish government said Friday.

"There are 20 who have requested political asylum," Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba told a news conference following a cabinet meeting. "The government will handle (these requests) according to the law."

Spanish media had earlier Friday put the number of asylum requests at 16 from the group that arrived illegally in Spain's Canary Islands archipelago by boat on Wednesday after hiding out in Laayoune, the main town in the Western Sahara.

The immigrants say they are at risk from the Moroccan authorities as they were based at the Gdim Izik camp erected outside Laayoune by some 15,000 Sahrawis who objected to living conditions inside the town.

Moroccan security forces on November 8 stormed and dismantled the camp.

Rabat says 11 security officers and at least two civilians were killed, while the Western Sahara's separatist Polisario Front said the toll was much higher.

One Moroccan rights group said last month that 150 people remain in detention following the raid, and some have been subjected to torture.

Morocco annexed the phosphate-rich Western Sahara after Spain withdrew from its former colony in 1975, but the Polisario Front fought the Moroccan presence until the United Nations brokered a ceasefire in 1991.

The Polisario wants a UN-organised referendum on self-determination, with independence as one of the options. But Rabat is offering only broad autonomy for the territory.

© 2011 AFP

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