Spain braced for Europe’s huge an­nual ex­o­dus

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

ALGECIRAS, Spain — It’s the largest an­nual hu­man mi­gra­tion in Europe: mil­lions of peo­ple from France, Bel­gium and Italy cross Spain every sum­mer to spend their hol­i­days with fam­ily in north Africa.

This year, close to 3 mil­lion are ex­pected to make the trip there and back through 16 ports in Spain, Mo­rocco and Al­ge­ria in an ex­o­dus that presents a huge lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenge.

In 2016, Spain’s civil pro­tec­tion agency reg­is­tered 2.8 mil­lion pas­sen­gers cross­ing the coun­try, and it ex­pects more to make the trip this year.

As a re­sult, some 13,000 po­lice of­fi­cers have been mo­bi­lized on the Span­ish side, along with trans­la­tors and Red Cross vol­un­teers.

Said Ar­rhamani, who lives in France’s north­east­ern Ar­dennes re­gion, knows the route off by heart, hav­ing done it since he was a child when his fam­ily would spend their sum­mer hol­i­days in Ra­bat in Mo­rocco.

It’s now his turn to drive his four young chil­dren more than 2,000 kilo­me­ters down to the port of Algeciras in Spain’s south, through which more than half of those cross­ing the coun­try tran­sit.

“Thirty years ago, this was pretty un­healthy,” says the 36-year-old in the port where a hec­tic at­mos­phere reigns, with cars, trucks and buses fill­ing all avail­able park­ing spa­ces, wait­ing to board fer­ries.

“We could wait two days be­fore board­ing, and there were traf­fic jams that reached the out­skirts of Algeciras.

“Now there are agents who speak to us in French and guide us un­til the end.”

As driv­ers ap­proach south­ern Spain, road signs also ap­pear in Ara­bic giv­ing di­rec­tions to the ports.

At the Algeciras port, most cars — some mod­est, oth­ers ex­pen­sive — are filled with clothes, food, nap­pies and blan­kets.

“We left Nice (in south­east­ern France) yes­ter­day at nine at night, and we ar­rived this after­noon,” says Karima Bel Hafout, trav­el­ing to Ra­bat via Tang­ier with her hus­band and two chil­dren.

“It’s close to 2,000 kilo­me­ters, but we save 2,700 eu­ros ($3,200) com­pared to tak­ing the plane.”

Oth­ers have taken the bus, and ar­rive even more tired.

But for ship­ping com­pa­nies, the ex­o­dus is good for business, par­tic­u­larly for those who op­er­ate in the Strait of Gi­bral­tar — they make 40 per­cent of their an­nual turnover between mid-June and mid-Septem­ber.

The va­ca­tion wave also cre­ates tem­po­rary jobs in Algeciras, a city of 120,000, where 28,000 di­rect and in­di­rect posts de­pend on the port.

Among th­ese are more than 200 young peo­ple wear­ing flu­o­res­cent yel­low shirts who help di­rect the traf­fic and count the ve­hi­cles with the help of smart­phones.

Is­abel Cor­rales, about to start her last year of study­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion and fi­nance at univer­sity, is one such tem­po­rary worker.

She’s been do­ing this every sum­mer for five years, and the money earned — close to 1,000 eu­ros — helps her fi­nance her stud­ies.

“This money is very wel­come,” she said.

JORGE GUERRERO / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Mo­torists and pas­sen­gers wait in lines be­fore em­bark­ing on fer­ries bound for Tang­ier at the Algeciras port in Spain.

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