surinenglish

Illegal boat immigrants freed on the Costa as system fails

The ‘pateras’ are alerting rescuers to come and get them.
The ‘pateras’ are alerting rescuers to come and get them. / Ñito Salas
  • Spain's official refugee centres are full, forcing charities to take over, and observers say recent high numbers arriving near Malaga suggest routes from Africa have changed

Over 100 illegal immigrants arriving by boat from North Africa in the last week have avoided official detention and been released by authorities in Malaga.

Spain's four refugee and immigrant reception centres, in Cadiz, Murcia, Madrid and Barcelona, are full and the Interior Ministry has had no option but to turn to charities to help process and care for the new arrivals.

Of the over 300 people reaching Andalucía up to Thursday morning this week, 104 have been brought ashore on the Costa del Sol. Last year Malaga province received a total of 750 people arriving in the so-called 'patera' boats, a ten-year record.

The arrivals at Malaga port this week came in two 'pateras'. On New Year's day, 52 came ashore, followed by another 52 on Tuesday. These had been rescued by emergency services 36 miles off the coast.

Unable to cope with this number though the normal channels as the reception centres are full, police turned to two charities; the Red Cross and Accem, a refugee charity, for help.

On Wednesday the immigrants left National Police headquarters in Malaga in coaches. Half were taken to charity centres run by Accem in Cadiz and Guadalajara, and half were collected by the Red Cross to sleep at their hostel in central Malaga.

Immigration lawyers have complained that this treatment discriminates against other immigrants arriving by boat as the recent arrivals have completely avoided the correct procedure.

Normally after arriving at the government's reception centres, authorities spend up to 60 days trying to clarify immigrants' identities, as most don't carry documentation or try to disguise their nationality, before beginning the process to deport those who are not real refugees.

Discrimination

An expert on immigration law in Malaga, Guillermo Jiménez, said that "from a legal point of view, you can't have discriminatory treatment [between different groups arriving]".

The arrivals cannot even be detained in other ways as not sending them to official centres would break the law. The Red Cross said this week that the mass release was unheard of in Malaga, although it has happened before in nearby Granada. Volunteers at the charity have been interviewing the immigrants, who come from sub-Saharan countries affected by conflict, such as Nigeria or Mali, and helping them to reach people they know in Spain or providing welfare support.

Refugee welfare expert in Malaga, Luis Pernía, talking about the recent arrivals, explained that the routes used to sail from Morocco to Spain appear to have changed recently, forcing more boats towards the Costa del Sol.

Guardia Civil sources have also highlighted a new trend whereby somebody linked to the immigrants calls emergency services to suggest a normal fishing boat is in trouble in order to force emergency services to find the immigrants boats and transfer them to Spain safely.

Local people are concerned that the recent ease of entry will encourage even more immigrants to try to reach the Costa this year.