Border control

In April this year, Spain's prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, revealed "Focus Africa", his flagship plan to reform infrastructure and education in Sub Saharan Africa over the next decade. The hope is that improved conditions in the region will reduce the flow of illegal migration to Spain, specifically to the Canary Islands and the North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the Mediterranean coast.

Despite its practical shortcomings, "Focus Africa" has theoretical appeal, because it seeks to solve a formidably difficult problem once and for all, rather than to just manage its effects. Paradoxically, though, this is also its biggest flaw: if the project ever launches - a huge "if", given the amount of resources required and the reluctance of Spain's private sector to invest in a notoriously corrupt region - it will take years, if not decades, to reduce migratory flows from Sub Saharan Africa to Spain. In the meantime, what's to be done about the crises in the Canaries, Ceuta and Melilla?

Events this week have raised that question once again. On Tuesday night, a group of over forty migrants attempted to swim around a fenced breakwater from a neighbouring Moroccan town into Ceuta, but were stopped by police. Earlier that day, a lone survivor was found lying next to two dead bodies on an overturned boat, 217 kilometres off the coast of Gran Canaria. The 30 year-old woman told rescuers that she'd left North Africa with "about forty people", all of whom are now feared dead. As of the end of July this year, 7,531 migrants had arrived in the Canaries, more than double the amount during the first seven months of 2020.

The Spanish government has already started sending unaccompanied minors back from Ceuta, although human rights organisations have expressed concerns about the legality of these group deportations. Deportations have also been carried out from the Canaries, without having much impact on the number of migrants living in improvised camps or sleeping rough. In May this year - a month in which 10,000 migrants crossed from Morocco into Ceuta - Sánchez said that Spain's borders will be defended "under any circumstance and with all the necessary measures."

Sánchez adopted a rather different stance in June 2018, when he took in a rescue ship carrying 629 migrants that had been rejected by Italy and Malta.

That same month, the Socialist leader also announced his intention to restore free healthcare to all undocumented people arriving in Spain, in a reversal of cuts made by his Conservative predecessor, Mariano Rajoy.

Whereas previously Sánchez flung Spain open and welcomed migrants with open arms, he's now promising tighter border control and returning new arrivals to places they've risked their lives trying to escape. What, exactly, is the Socialist leader's stance on migration?