Mi­grants once again drawn to deadly Span­ish route to Europe

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

The num­ber of mi­grants ar­riv­ing on Spain’s south­ern coast has more than dou­bled in 2017 from last year as they avoid pass­ing through con­flict-wracked Libya on their way to Europe. Eight boats car­ry­ing 380 peo­ple have been res­cued since Wed­nes­day in the Alb­o­ran Sea, which con­nects north­east­ern Morocco and south­east­ern Spain, in the West­ern Mediter­ranean.

“We are wor­ried be­cause we are see­ing num­bers which we have not seen in years. And it’s a dangerous area, where the cur­rents are very strong,” said the spokesman for the Span­ish branch of rights group SOS Racisme, Mikel Araguas. Last week, an in­flat­able dinghy that had ap­par­ently set out from Morocco with 52 peo­ple aboard was flipped over after be­ing hit by a strong wave. Only three sur­vivors were res­cued by the Span­ish coast­guard. The United Na­tions Refugee Agency (UNHCR) called it “the worst tragedy in the last decade in the Span­ish Mediter­ranean” in­volv­ing mi­grants.

The Ital­ian sea route re­mains the most pop­u­lar for mi­grants. Italy has ac­cepted around 85,000 of the 100,000 peo­ple who have ar­rived in Europe by sea this year ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Mi­gra­tion (IOM). But the Span­ish route fur­ther west is gath­er­ing pace. Be­tween Jan­uary and June, more than 6,400 peo­ple were res­cued at sea be­tween Morocco and Al­ge­ria and Spain, ac­cord­ing to the IOM, com­pared to 8,100 dur­ing all of 2016. The fig­ure is close to the more than 9,000 mi­grants who ar­rived in Greece dur­ing the pe­riod.

Tor­ture, slav­ery

The vast ma­jor­ity of mi­grants who come to Europe are sub-Sa­ha­ran Africans flee­ing poverty or con­flict in their home coun­tries. Most leave na­tions such as Guinea, Gam­bia or the Ivory Coast and make their way to Libya where they hope to cross over by boat to Italy. But the word is get­ting out that this route is be­com­ing more risky, with “ever harder con­trols”, said He­lena Maleno Gar­zon of mi­grant aid agency Cam­i­nando Fron­teras.

Many mi­grants pass­ing through Libya, wracked by chaos since the 2011 top­pling of dic­ta­tor Moamer Kad­hafi with ri­val mili­tias and ad­min­is­tra­tions seek­ing to con­trol the oil-rich coun­try, have re­ported dra­matic tales of abuse in the coun­try. Mi­grants have re­ported be­ing sold “on a slave mar­ket”, ac­cord­ing to the IOM. Amnesty In­ter­na­tional has com­plained of mi­grants be­ing tor­tured and jailed while the UNHCR has pub­lished re­ports by mi­grants of “ap­palling” con­di­tions at Libya’s mi­grant de­ten­tion cen­ters.

As a result some mi­grants pre­fer to make their way to Morocco or Al­ge­ria and from there cross the Mediter­ranean to Spain. Adding to the ap­peal of this route is the fact that the sea cross­ing is shorter and it costs less. Prices charged by peo­ple smug­glers have fallen to around 900 euros ($1,000) per per­son, com­pared to 1,5002,000 euros in 2016, said An­dres Gar­cia Lorca, the Span­ish cen­tral gov­ern­ment’s deputy del­e­gate in the south­ern prov­ince of Alme­ria.

Des­per­a­tion

Morocco also ap­pears to have soft­ened its con­trols, said Araguas. Euro­pean Union bor­der agency Fron­tex for its part says it has not no­ticed “any change in bor­der vig­i­lance” on the part of Morocco. Re­cent so­cial un­rest in north­ern Morocco’s Rif re­gion also ap­pears to have added to the mi­gra­tory pressure. “There were nu­mer­ous mi­grants from the Rif re­gion in the month of June, there had not been so many Moroc­cans since the 1990s,” said Maleno.

The risk of dy­ing does not de­ter mi­grants. Over 2,200 peo­ple have lost their lives this year try­ing to cross the Mediter­ranean Sea from North Africa, ac­cord­ing to UN fig­ures. “It is ur­gent and nec­es­sary to be aware of the se­ri­ous­ness of the sit­u­a­tion.

They can’t con­tinue to close doors,” said the pres­i­dent of mi­grant char­ity An­dalu­cia Acoge, Elena Ta­juelo. UNHCR spokes­woman in Spain, Maria Je­sus Vega, said if Europe does not give the mi­grants a so­lu­tion, “the so­lu­tion will be given to them by mafia net­works that take ad­van­tage of their des­per­a­tion.” Spain’s in­te­rior min­istry did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

— AFP

TRIPOLI: Libyan coast­guards help rescue il­le­gal im­mi­grants at­tempt­ing to reach Europe off the coastal town of Guarabouli, 60 kilo­me­ters east of the cap­i­tal.

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