Every sum­mer, Spain hosts an­nual ex­o­dus to north Africa

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

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 three 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 even 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 kid 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.

Longer but cheaper

At the Algeciras port, most cars-some mod­est, oth­ers ex­pen­sive-are filled with clothes, food, nap­pies and blan­kets. While some hol­i­day­mak­ers eat and chat, oth­ers sleep in­side their car or lie down on car­pets in the shade, and still more smoke hookah pipes. Chil­dren play foot­ball nearby. “We left Nice (in south­east­ern France) yes­ter­day at nine at night, and we ar­rived this after­noon,” says Karima Bel Hafout, trav­el­ling to Ra­bat via Tang­ier with her hus­band and two chil­dren.

“It’s close to 2,000 kilo­me­ters, but we save 2,700 eu­ros com­pared to tak­ing the plane.” Oth­ers have taken the bus, and ar­rive even more tired. “I’ve done my back in try­ing to sleep,” says Hamid Hafid, with a mix of res­ig­na­tion and hu­mor, hav­ing come from Agen in south­ern France. “It’s hard and long,” adds his friend Said Khadrouf, drink­ing from his wa­ter bot­tle.

Af­ter spend­ing time back home, they will all go back north again in Au­gust and the first half of Septem­ber un­der the watch­ful eye of Span­ish se­cu­rity agents. To avoid il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and fear­ing ex­trem­ist at­tacks, agents from 16 other Euro­pean coun­tries have been mo­bi­lized to work with of­fi­cers in Spain. Last year, they checked 1.6 mil­lion pas­sen­gers, Span­ish po­lice said. Manuel Al­cazar, the port’s chief of pro­tec­tion, says all this ac­tiv­ity takes its toll on the port, one of the big­gest in Europe. Sit­ting in front of a high-def­i­ni­tion screen in his of­fice, where he ex­am­ines the footage of close to 700 se­cu­rity cam­eras, he ex­plains that on peak days, au­thor­i­ties give pri­or­ity to pas­sen­gers. This, how­ever, means that the load­ing of trucks car­ry­ing mer­chan­dise goes slower.

And this is an im­por­tant part of the ac­tiv­ity of a port which deals with mer­chan­dise from Span­ish tex­tiles group In­di­tex, spare parts for car-maker Re­nault, which has a fac­tory in Tang­ier, agri­cul­tural prod­ucts and seafood. But for ship­ping com­pa­nies, the an­nual 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 mass mi­gra­tion 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 says with a large smile. — AFP

ALGECIRAS: Chief of the port po­lice pro­tec­tion Manuel Al­cazar con­trols the queues em­bark­ing on fer­ries bound for Tang­ier at the Algeciras port. — AFP

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