MS Risk Blog

New Migrant Route Brining Refugees to Spain

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The number of migrants crossing into Spain by sea from North Africa has doubled in 2017 compared to last year, effectively outpacing the Libya-Italy route as the fastest growing entry point to Europe.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has reported that the spike in migrant boats is already placing a lot of stress on Spain’s insufficient migration structures. According to the UNHCR, more than 360,000 refugees and migrants arrived on European shores across the Mediterranean in 2016, with many escaping conflicts and poverty. So far this year, more than 85,000 have reached Italy. Officials are now indicating that while the Italian sea route remains the most popular overall, with 59,000 migrants taking this route between January and May 2017 – up 32 percent from last year, the Spanish route further west is gathering steam, with 6,800 migrants using this route during the same period – an increase of 75 percent from 2016. Officials have added that in June, the trend was even more pronounced, as 1,900 migrants, mostly young men originating from Guinea, Ivory Coast, Gambia and Cameroon, reached the shores of the southern region of Andalusia, effectively quadrupling the numbers that were registered in the same month last year.

In West Africa, the number of migrants that have been spotted in the Agadez region of Niger, which is a key stop on the way to Libya from West Africa, has also dramatically fallen. Buba Fubareh, a 27-year-old mason from Banjul, Gambia, who tried and failed to get to Europe via Libya earlier this year, disclosed that “people are talking about going to Spain. It seems like it is safest to go through Morocco to Spain than through Libya. The difference is that Libya doesn’t have a president and Morocco does – there are no guns like in Libya.” Many African migrants who have passed through Libya have reported having been beaten up, detained in camps with no food or water and even traded as slaves before being held for ransom, forced labour or sexual exploitation.

Officials have also noted that a similar reorganization has also taken place within the Western Mediterranean route itself, with the Alboran Sea, which connects northeastern Morocco and southeastern Spain, being now more popular than the previously favoured Gibraltar strait or Ceuta and Melilla land borders where policing has increased. According to government data, migrant arrivals on the Spanish coastline averaged just under 5,000 a year between 2010 and 2016, down from a peak of 39,180 in 2006. Government data shows that it is on track to top 11,000 this year. The UNHCR has indicated that the country was unprepared to handle vulnerable groups, such as victims of trafficking or unaccompanied minors and refugees who should be channelled through asylum procedures. So far, Spain has given a lukewarm response to a request from Italy last month to fellow European union (EU) countries to allow rescue boats carrying African migrants across the Mediterranean to dock in their ports in a bid to help handle tens of thousands of arrivals. Spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Spain Maria Jesus Vega has stated that “what is clear is that, they (Spain’s government) have to get ready. They can’t be caught unprepared. What started happening elsewhere in Europe in 2015 cant be allowed to happen here,” adding “its not yet an emergency, but you have to take into account that there are no structures here to deal with more arrivals.”