|Spain’s latest headache is the increasingly popular human smuggling route that starts in West Africa and ends in the Canary Islands.|
The international fishing industry has all but wiped out the livelihood of local fishermen in Senegal, forcing them to risk death and smuggle migrants 1,350 kilometers (845 miles) to the Canary Islands in Spain. The country’s liberal policy toward refugees and worsening economy in West Africa are making Spain a prime destination for illegal immigrants. Prime Minister JosÃ© Luis RodrÃguez Zapatero, who has dispatched the military to intercept them, is asking the European Union for help.
This year alone, more than 8,000 migrants have reached the Canaries, Antonio Mazzitelli of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime told the International Herald Tribune. In Senegal, the migrants pay a smuggler about US$800 and then risk their lives aboard the colorful fishing boats known as pirogues for a shot at life in Europe.
If they make it, the boat is destroyed along with any remaining identification papers in order to take advantage of weaknesses in Spanish immigration rules. Illegal migrants are repatriated within 40 days. If their country of origin cannot be identified, they are flown to the mainland where they are released in big cities.
In the past 24 hours, 796 migrants arrived in the Canaries, the largest number for a single day, Spanish news agency EFE reported. The largest number of new arrivals was 647 immigrants on May 18. But the number reflects only those who were intercepted by the military.
Spanish daily El Pais said Austria, Britain, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, and Portugal have agreed to dispatch the military alongside Spain to patrol the waters off Senegal and its neighbors. Desperate to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, Spain is dispatching more than a dozen representatives to West Africa to sign a migration agreement, which would include some form of economic aid to these countries.
For decades, Spain has been one of African immigrants’ favorite destinations. Spain’s efforts to keep migrants away from Ceuta and Melilla have been unsuccessful, writes Wayne Cornelius in an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times. The tiny coastal territories in North Africa are surrounded by Morocco and the Mediterranean Sea. Others would cobble up â‚¬3,000 (US$3,860) for a seat on a flimsy boat to the Canary Islands.
Thousands are believed to die each year in similar illegal crossings around the world. And sometimes the only thing that lives is a ghost ship like the one that showed up in Barbados.
The ship sailed from West Africa in January with more than 50 migrants destined for the Canaries. The “ghost ship” was found four months later with only 11 desiccated bodies.