A group of migrants waiting to disembark in the port of Arguineguín (Gran Canaria) on July 25. BORJA SUAREZ (REUTERS)
Spain is the only European country in the Mediterranean that maintains irregular immigration in the red, with a drop, up to July 31, of 3.3%, according to the latest data from the Ministry of the Interior. It is not a spectacular figure, but while in Spain it is more difficult to hold on to the data to justify alarmist and anti-immigration speeches, the right-wing governments of Italy and Greece use it to apply controversial formulas to stop increases of 115% and 65% respectively, according to UNHCR statistics. The trend, however, is that, as the summer progresses, landings increase and Spain ceases to be a case apart, although its upward trend is much more modest than that of its Mediterranean neighbours.
There is no single reason that explains how migration flows are distributed. Spain was already the main gateway to the European Union for irregular immigration in 2018 and 2020 and the reasons why it was and ceased to be so go far beyond the actions of a government. The conflicts in the countries of origin, the activities of the traffickers, the rise in prices, the dangerousness of the route or the controls and stability of the countries of transit form a complex puzzle that mutates as its pieces change. “Migration dynamics are constantly evolving and we may see more changes before the end of the year,” warns Mark Micallef of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, an organization that promotes new approaches to combat organized crime.
The Ministry of the Interior of Fernando Grande-Marlaska began to observe a containment of irregular immigration after the reconciliation with Morocco in March 2022 through the turn of the Government on the Sahara conflict. Since then, the Moroccan security forces have once again blocked the transit of migrants and refugees to Spain with a combination of roadblocks, raids, armoring of the fences in Ceuta and Melilla, summary expulsions and even attacks with weapons. of fire. “We were already in the water, a few meters from the shore, when we heard the shots,” a Ghanaian woman who arrived badly injured in Gran Canaria on May 25 told EL PAÍS. According to her account, it was Moroccan soldiers who shot the occupants of her boat when she was preparing to leave from a cove near Cape Bojador (Western Sahara). “First I thought they were warning shots. But then I saw blood on the boat. And so a guy next to me pointed to my arm and said, ‘Hey, you’re the one that’s bleeding,’” she explained.
What affects the most is what happens closer. To not miss anything, subscribe.
The Moroccan action, combined with the interceptions in Algeria, Senegal and Mauritania, meant that Spain began the year with a 70% drop in irregular immigration. It was an unprecedented figure in the Government of Pedro Sánchez, which has been chaining upturns and crises since he arrived at La Moncloa in 2018. “Migratory flows are closely related to the dynamics of transit countries,” maintains Micallef. “While Rabat has intensified police activities against traffickers and migrants, especially sub-Saharan Africans, political and economic instability in Libya and Tunisia act as engines for people to emigrate more intensively.”
But the Spanish margin has not stopped narrowing and is accompanied by hundreds of deaths at sea. In the first seven months of 2023, 473 people died or disappeared trying to reach Spain, according to the Missing Migrants project of the International Organization for Migration. In other words, two out of every ten migrants or refugees who die on their clandestine journey to Europe had Spain as their destination.
Some keys to the current migratory balance in Spain are explained below, according to official figures and confidential reports from the Spanish security forces and the European border agency (Frontex) to which EL PAÍS has had access. The Canary route concentrates almost 60% of the entries, but there is a rebound in arrivals to the Peninsula, mostly Moroccans. Meanwhile, contrary to some alarmist forecasts, the number of Algerians landing on the Mediterranean coasts has fallen. On the other hand, the landing of cayucos from Senegal altered the trend of arrivals to the Canary Islands upwards. The Melilla fence, after the tragedy of June 24, is, judging by the figures, an impassable fort. Not so much its waters.
General fall, increase in boats in the Peninsula. The figures from the Ministry of the Interior show the arrival, from January 1 to July 31, of 16,174 people by sea and land, 3.3% less than in the same period the previous year. The negative figures are the result of the combination of decreases in the Canary Islands, Ceuta and Melilla, which are offsetting a rise of 32% in landings on the coasts of the Peninsula and the Balearic Islands. But when looking at the detail of the figures compiled by the security forces – and which the Interior neither breaks down nor makes public – it is observed that the increase only occurs, in reality, in arrivals on the Peninsula, specifically of Moroccan citizens. Meanwhile, the landings of Algerians in the Levant and the Balearic Islands fall. The figures suggest that the hundreds of Moroccans who are arriving are leaving from the north of Morocco or from the border region with Algeria.
This upward trend keeps the Spanish authorities on alert. The modus operandi of the mafias operating on this route has included large and powerful rubber boats, traditionally used in the Strait to transport hashish and cocaine, and which, in many cases, manage to reach land without being intercepted. The irregular immigration business, with inflatables that can carry more than thirty occupants at rates of up to 9,000 euros, can be even more lucrative than drug trafficking.
Omar Naji, a researcher in Nador for the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH), speaks of “a hemorrhage” when referring to the emigration of Moroccans to the Peninsula, but also to Melilla. “The towns of the Rif have almost been emptied of their youth,” he laments. “This is a paid migration totally controlled by traffickers. This migration does not seem to pose any problem to the Moroccan and Spanish authorities: the effort and the means used to stop it are insignificant compared to the mobilization found when it comes to sub-Saharan migration through the fence, for example, ”he explains.
Regarding the arrival of Moroccan immigrants, the data from Almería, the main destination of the boats that leave from the Algerian coast, is striking. The province has received hundreds more immigrants than last year, but contrary to what one might think, the majority do not come from Algeria, but from Morocco. Among the nearly 2,000 people intercepted in Almería in the first half of the year, 65% are Moroccans, according to sources from the security forces. Last year, around these same dates, that figure did not reach 20%.
This trend once again puts the focus on Algiers, which, despite its poor relations with Spain since the government of Pedro Sánchez brought its positions on Western Sahara closer to those of Rabat, has not used immigration as a bargaining chip: the authorities Algerians block more than half of the departures from their territory and the arrival trend remains slightly downward. Algeria, however, still does not accept the repatriation of its nationals, so Spain cannot return a single Algerian who arrives on its shores irregularly.
The cayucos return to the Canary Islands. After a month of June that presented the worst figures in five years (almost 3,000 entries), the landings in July in the archipelago have fallen by more than half. The islands, to which 8,508 people have arrived so far this year, register a drop in arrivals of 11.3%, but everything indicates that, in autumn, the time with the best navigability on this route, the trend will be reversed .
Departures from Morocco and Western Sahara, where most of the immigrants who want to reach the Canary Islands depart from, have slowed down in recent weeks. The Moroccan authorities are intercepting an average of 32% of the vessels heading to the archipelago, according to internal data from the Spanish authorities.
But the constant trickle of cayucos that leave mainly from Senegal — there are already close to thirty between June and July — has triggered the alerts. The resurgence of these huge boats, in which up to 200 people can travel, is leaving a trail of dozens of deaths and challenges the Spanish emergency and reception system once they make landfall.
Saliou Diouf, president of the Senegalese Boza Fii association, has been warning for some time about the frustration that drives young Senegalese to emigrate. After two years of instability, the country’s political crisis worsened on June 1 with the conviction of a very popular opposition leader among young people, Ousmane Sonko. Since then there have been many demonstrations that have resulted in dozens of deaths and arrests. “Last year a friend of mine was killed in a demonstration, he died in my arms,” says Mustafa Dieng, a 27-year-old Senegalese student studying contemporary literature in Dakar. Since then, Dieng, who was a member of Sonko’s party, recently dissolved by government decree, began planning his departure from the country. And, finally, he arrived in Gran Canaria in a canoe about a month ago. “I want to ask for asylum,” he pleads. “If things don’t go well and it’s not possible to demonstrate either because you risk arbitrary arrests, the country becomes a prison,” maintains the activist Fii. “It is clear that young people are going to want to get out.”
Shielding of the Melilla fence. It is increasingly difficult to overcome the fences of Ceuta and Melilla. Tickets by land fell in the two autonomous cities as a whole by almost 67%, but the true shielding is observed in Melilla. Since one of the most serious incidents ever recorded on a European border occurred on June 24, 2022, with more than twenty deaths, the fence and its surroundings have been a fortress firmly protected by the Moroccan security forces. If in 2022, 1,122 people managed to enter Melilla in various massive attempts, this year only 62 migrants have succeeded. That’s a 94.6% drop.
But the arrivals by sea to Melilla deserve a separate chapter because, even with low numbers, they have more than tripled since 2021. After the reopening of the borders of Ceuta and Melilla, in May 2022, the freedom that the neighbors of Tetouan and Nador to enter and leave the autonomous cities and the need for a visa to cross from one country to another began to be imposed. The decision of Rabat and Madrid, which, for the moment, has no prospect of being reversed, left thousands of Moroccan citizens who worked in Spain without resources. Coinciding with this situation, there are constant attempts by Moroccans to emigrate by sea, especially through Melilla. So far this year, a hundred people have already crossed, while in all of 2021 there were 39.
The AMDH researcher in Nador confirms this increase. “In recent months, the importance of migration to Melilla has been noted: the poor do it by swimming and those who can use different means. The general tendency in this migratory route (Nador-Spain) is without a doubt to tolerate the establishment of an exclusively remunerated migration and totally controlled by the traffickers”.
Subscribe to continue reading
Read without limits
#Spain #remains #European #country #Mediterranean #curbs #irregular #immigration