Half a million immigrants wait to enter Canarys

14th March 2006, Comments 0 comments

14 March 2006, SANTA CRUZ DE TENERIFE — Half a million would-be immigrants are waiting to make the journey to Spain's Canary Islands then on to the rest of Europe, authorities said.

14 March 2006

SANTA CRUZ DE TENERIFE — Half a million would-be immigrants are waiting to make the journey to Spain's Canary Islands then on to the rest of Europe, authorities said.

Diplomatic sources in Mauritania and Spain said they are dealing with a rising tide of illegal immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa who, following tightened security imposed last year in two Spanish enclaves in North Africa, are opting for a sea route to the Canary Islands.

Various incidents in recent days have confirmed their fears.

Sixty-six sub-Saharan immigrants in a small boat were intercepted on Monday as they approached Tenerife.

The number of immigrants who have sailed in small boats to the Canary Islands already this year is triple that of the same period in 2005.

With half of March remaining, a total of 2,542 immigrants have landed in the Canaries this year compared with 857 in the first three months last year.

The sea separating Africa from the Canary Islands coasts has long been the scene of attempted crossings - some successful and others not - of people from African countries hoping to reach the coast of Spain to stay in that country or continue on to another European destination.

To make the trip, undocumented immigrants crowd into small boats which put to sea - almost always at night - and not infrequently sink due to the excess weight on board.

Last week 45 Spain-bound emigrants drowned off north-western Africa when their two small boats sank - one of them after being inadvertently crashed into by a Moroccan coast guard vessel - according to Red Crescent authorities in Mauritania, which is some 900 kilometers (560 miles) from the Canary Islands.

In the first shipwreck, 23 undocumented sub-Saharan emigrants died, while 20 others were able to be rescued by a Moroccan patrol boat.

In the second sinking, 22 emigrants - also from several sub-Saharan nations - drowned and 24 were rescued by Mauritanian patrol boats, sources said.

Both groups were headed for Spain's Canary Islands.

Last weekend alone, a total of 211 undocumented immigrants reached the Canary Islands.

On Monday, 98 immigrants who had been given refuge at a foreigners' internment centre on the island of Fuerteventura were taken to the Spanish mainland as part of a plan to deal with the problem of facilities for immigrants who have arrived in Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura.

The internment centres reached capacity with the 211 new illegal immigrants who arrived this weekend.

Despite the risks of crossing from Africa to Europe, plus heightened vigilance by the authorities, immigrants take advantage of favourable weather conditions and the use of bigger and better vessels.

More immigrants try to enter Spain by sea now that the overland route through Spain's North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla has become more difficult due to tighter security, following large-scale attempts by sub-Saharans to enter that way last year.

In Autumn last year, five Africans died in a rush of at least 700 who attempted to scale the three-meter-high fence around Ceuta with homemade ladders. Two reportedly were killed by gunfire.

A total of 163 sub-Saharan immigrants succeeded in climbing the double fences at Ceuta, and more than 100 of them were treated at Ceuta medical facilities, most of them for minor injuries.

Meanwhile, nine massive attempts to scale Melilla's border fences occurred last year, with a toll of three immigrants.

Moroccan police say they arrested more than 200 would-be immigrants in the woods following one massive scaling attempt.

The Spanish government adopted a special security plan to guard the borders and allocated more than EUR 2.5 million to humanitarian immigrant assistance centres in both North African cities.

[Copyright EFE with Expatica]

Subject: Spanish news

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