Spain could overtake Greece in migrant sea arrivals
GENEVA - Spain could overtake Greece this year in the number of migrants arriving by sea, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said Thursday, coming shore on boats and even jet-skis.
Holidaymakers on a beach in southern Spain Wednesday were stunned when a black rubber boat full of migrants reached the shore, its occupants jumping out and running away as scores of sun-worshippers looked on.
On the same day, 12 migrants arrived in waters off the Spanish territory of Ceuta in northern Morocco on jet-skis, with one -- a 28-year-old man from Guinea -- drowning before he could be rescued, authorities said.
On Thursday morning, Spanish coastguards said they had rescued 10 men from sub-Saharan Africa in a rickety boat off Tarifa in southern Spain.
And the list goes on.
- Safer route -
According to the IOM's latest figures, until August 6, close to 8,200 migrants had arrived in Spain so far this year.
That is more than triple the number recorded at the same time last year, according to Joel Millman, a senior IOM spokesman, and already more than the total arrivals in 2016.
While the figure pales in comparison with Italy -- where more than 96,400 migrants have landed so far this year -- Spain is catching up with Greece where 11,713 alighted from boats in the same timeframe.
"It's possible that Spain will outperform Greece this year," Millman said.
"If so, that's a big change."
He said many people taking the long route towards Europe were from west African countries like Senegal, Gambia, Guinea or Ivory Coast.
But to get to Italy, they have to cross the Sahara desert and crucially Libya, wracked by chaos as rival militias and administrations seek to control the oil-rich country.
Faced with the danger, some may be deciding to go up along the coast instead.
"We assume that some of the change is due to the fact that the route is considered a safe route up to the coast through Morocco," Millman said.
He added that the boats crossing the choppy sea to Spain were much smaller than those launching from Libya to Italy.
In Libya there "appears to be a very deliberate strategy to put people out there, in overloaded boats that begin to take on water almost immediately and then it's a race to see how quickly the people on the boat can summon aid," he said.
"Whereas in Spain, the strategy is smaller craft hoping to come in undetected, and undoubtedly some do."
- Pregnant women, kids -
Spain's Guardia Civil police force said that nine of around 30 migrants who arrived on the beach on Wednesday had been found, all of them minors in their teens.
Spokesman Manuel Gonzalez said that while they did not have any ID on them, they were thought to be from Morocco.
The teenagers will be taken to migrant reception centres, where they can apply for asylum in Spain.
Inigo Vila, in charge of emergencies for the Red Cross in Spain, said the organisation had reinforced the number of people working on the coast in southern Andalusia and in Ceuta to help migrants when they make landfall.
"Some people arrive with little strength left, sometimes they got lost, lost the engine, don't have anything to eat or drink in the boat, some have sunburns or burns from the petrol. And others are fine and recover quickly," he said.
"It's always surprising to see pregnant women and children -- even if there aren't many -- who try to cross in these conditions, risking their life and that of the kids for a better life."
- Land arrivals too -
The number of sea arrivals, however, doesn't take into account those coming into Ceuta and Melilla, two Spanish territories in northern Morocco, by land.
Both cities are the EU's only land borders with Africa.
As a result, they are entry points for migrants who regularly try to climb high double border fences or force their way through them with wire cutters, or hide in vehicles crossing the frontier.
Faced with the number of recent entry attempts, authorities in Ceuta have decided to close the border for trade for over a week, to allow guards to better man the fence.