Spain could surpass Greece this year as a gateway for migrants entering Europe by sea, international monitors warned on Thursday, as the number of arrivals swells to treble that of 2016.
Amid a crackdown on migration through Libya, more than 8,000 people have turned to the so-called Western Mediterranean Route from Morocco into Spain this year, compared to 2,500 during the same period in 2016.
On Wednesday, sunbathers on a beach near Cadiz were shocked to see a black rubber dinghy loaded with migrants landing on the shore, its occupants quickly leaping from the vessel and running away.
Jose Maraver, head of the Maritime Rescue centre in nearby Tarifa, told the Telegraph that a second boat had landed on another beach in the area on Thursday while two vessels had to be rescued. This was now a regular occurrence along that stretch of coast, he said.
“Every day there are boats, every day there is migration,” Mr Maraver added. “The situation is getting very complicated.”
African migrants are also increasingly setting their sights on Ceuta, a Spanish enclave in Morocco which has seen a 230 percent rise in arrivals in recent weeks. On Wednesday, authorities there said they had closed the border to trade for a week in order to cope with with the surge, after a string of mass incursions through its security fence.
On Monday, almost 200 migrants stormed the double fence and ran through security checkpoints, one officer suffering a broken leg in the stampede, which was captured on CCTV.
A group of some 700 sub-Saharan Africans tried to break through on Thursday but were pushed back by Moroccan police, officials said. An earlier attempt by around 1,000 migrants, armed with sticks and home-made spears, was thwarted by officers from both countries.
Migrants are resorting to ever more creative ways to evade such controls. On Wednesday, twelve arrived in Ceuta’s waters on jet-skis, one of them – a 28-year-old Guinean man – drowning before authorities reached him.
Spain has already received more arrivals this year than in the whole of 2016, the International Organization for Migration said on Thursday.
Almost 8,200 migrants had arrived on Spanish shores by August 6, according to the IOM. Italy remains by far the biggest gateway, accounting for 85 per cent of arrivals by sea since the start of 2017 with more than 96,400. But Spain is catching up with Greece, where 11,713 have landed.
“It’s possible that Spain will outperform Greece this year,” Joel Millman, an IOM spokesperson, told AFP. “If so, that’s a big change.”
The Spanish government has remained quiet on the issue, the Interior Ministry not responding to the Telegraph’s request for comment. But opposition parties and leading media outlets have been sounding the alarm. An editorial by the centre-left newspaper El Pais on Thursday urged that “Spain cannot be left alone as the guardian of the south of Europe,” saying it was “obvious that the migratory pressure has transferred to the western Mediterranean” and that action from Brussels was needed.
Horrific conditions in Libya and a new policy by the Libyan coast guard of blocking migrant boats heading to Italy may be behind the surge in the number of Africans trying to reach Europe via Spain. Mr Millman said the crossing from Morocco was considered by migrants to be a “safe route”.
Flavio Di Giacomo of the IOM said migrants may be hearing about conditions in Libya, and the crackdown by the Libyan coastguard, and changing their plans accordingly.
“Back in January, when we had a surge of arrivals, the migrants said that was because the smugglers told them that the Libyan coast guard would soon start stopping boats. So they are very well informed.”
So far this year the Libyan coast guard has blocked around 12,000 migrants from leaving the coast towards Italy.
They are doing so at the request of the EU, which is seeking to collaborate with the Libyans to choke off the exodus. Since 2014, more than half a million migrants and refugees have reached Italy from North Africa.
Tens of thousands of migrants in Libya are now being kept in detention centres. “They are prisons,” said Mr Di Giacomo. “Conditions are unacceptable and the situation must change.”
Migrants and refugees are being raped, abused, tortured and in some cases killed in Libya, according to a report out this week by Oxfam. Some are sold in modern-day slave markets and are used as unpaid labour.
Penny Lawrence, deputy chief executive of Oxfam GB, said that safe routes to Europe must be provided. “Outsourcing the policing of our borders to Libya isn’t the solution,” she added.