Number of migrants arriving in Spain soars: minister

The number of migrants arriving in Spain so far this year has soared more than 88 percent from the same period in 2016, Interior Minister Juan Ignacio Zoido said on Tuesday.

Number of migrants arriving in Spain soars: minister
Would-be immigrants atop a border fence separating Morocco from the north African Spanish enclave of Melilla. Photo: AFP

Speaking in a parliamentary commission on internal affairs, he added that the number of people merely attempting to get to the Spanish overseas territory of Ceuta in northern Morocco had dramatically increased.

Up until Monday, 15,473 migrants had entered Spain illegally by sea and over land, he said.

Of the 11,162 people who arrived by sea, some 11,000 were rescued by coastguards from rickety boats in which they were crossing the Mediterranean between Morocco and Spain.

The others arrived on their own.   

At least 121 people have died along the way, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Many Africans undertaking the long route to Europe are choosing to avoid crossing danger-ridden Libya to get to Italy along the so-called central Mediterranean route, and choosing instead to get there via Morocco and Spain.

But figures show that the route to Italy is still the most popular, with some 100,000 people arriving so far this year.   

Zoido said there had been a leap in coordinated attempts to break through high double border fences or storm frontier posts in Ceuta, which with Melilla, another Spanish territory in northern Morocco, represents the only land border between Africa and Europe.

He said that so far this year, close to 9,000 people — mostly from sub-Saharan Africa — had attempted to force their way into the Spanish territory compared to 613 in the same period in 2016.

READ MORE: Dozens of migrants force through Morocco-Spain border

“There is a constant trickle of people attempting to break through Ceuta's fence,” he said.

He added that the double fence in Ceuta, built in 1999 and increased in height from three to six metres (10 to 20 feet) in 2005, “doesn't fulfil the purpose for which it was once built.”   

“The migrants use tools such as clubs, metal cutters or hooks to break doors in the border fence and cut or climb over the fences,” he said.    

The Spanish government aims to invest some €12 million ($14.4 million) next year to shore up the border fence between Morocco and Ceuta, by for instance reinforcing security along the barrier.


How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.