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The pandemic and a route change slash migrant boat arrivals on the Costa del Sol

Migrants arrive at Malaga port. File photograph.
Migrants arrive at Malaga port. File photograph. / ÑITO SALAS
  • The number of illegal migrants who come via the Alboran Sea has dropped by 56.3 per cent, from 2,150 in 2019 to 941 last year

The number of illegal migrants arriving on the Malaga coastline in 2020 has dropped by more than half when compared to those who were intercepted or landed in 2019, the year before the outbreak of the worldwide coronavirus pandemic.

Compared to the 79 boats discovered in 2019, 49 were registered in 2020. As a direct result, the number of migrants arriving via the Alboran Sea has decreased, from 2,150 in 2019 to 941 in 2020 - some 56.3 per cent fewer.

During the first wave of the pandemic, the spread of fear also reached the African continent and stopped the departure of boats from Morocco.

"The pandemic acted as a brake at the beginning," explains the spokesperson for the Moroccan Association for the Integration of Immigrants in Malaga, Irene Quirante. The organisation offers help and legal support to immigrants who arrive in the city.

But the pandemic is not the only reason. There is another that, in recent months, has acquired a special relevance. It has to do with a change in the routes used to reach European soil.

According to Quirante, the tightening of controls by the Moroccan authorities on the route through the Alboran Sea, which is the one that leads to Malaga, has caused the gangs that try to smuggle migrants to use the so-called Canaries route.

The Atlantic crossing is now the route most frequented by the boats – but it is also the most dangerous. The starting point is Western Sahara and the distances covered, often in fragile craft, can exceed 500 kilometres. If a boat starts from Senegal, the distance increases to 1,000 kilometres. And the trip turns into a lottery.

"Actually, right now there is no other possible route other than the Canary Islands. The Libya route is even more dangerous, the Turkish one is blocked and the Mediterranean route, which was the one that brought migrants to Malaga, as we have already said, has decreased due to the aforementioned Moroccan controls of Morocco,” Quirante said.

She adds that the closing of the border between Morocco and Spain in Ceuta and Melilla has also contributed to the pressure being transferred to the Canary Islands.