Police arrest trafficking gang who smuggled people into Spain by speedboat

Spanish police on Monday said they had arrested 26 suspected smugglers who brought more than 900 migrants to Spain last year, mostly from Algeria, charging 2,500 euros ($2,800) per person.

Police arrest trafficking gang who smuggled people into Spain by speedboat
The gang smuggled in more than 900 people during 2019 earning over €1.5m Photo: Interior Ministry

The network, which was based in Algeria and the southeastern Spanish provinces of Alicante and Almeria, used powerful speedboats which set out from the northern port of Oran and crossed the western Mediterranean in three hours, a police statement said.   

It also ran a route between Tangiers in northern Morocca and the southern Spanish port of Algeciras.

“Each immigrant had to pay the organisation between €2,000 and €2,500  for the crossing” and another 500 euros to be transported by car to cities in southern and eastern Spain “where they stayed with family and friends,” it

If they failed to stump up the full payment, they were dumped along the way or held hostage until their families covered the amount owed in a business which earned the network “more than €1.5 million” last year, the police said.

The detainees, whose nationality was not given, were mainly rounded up during six raids in Almeria and Alicante during which police also confiscated 17 vehicles.   

Spain is one of the main gateways to Europe for migrants coming from Africa, with some 26,168 people arriving by sea in 2019, interior ministry figures show.

But overall, the numbers coming by sea have fallen significantly, down 54.5 percent on 57,498 who made the journey a year earlier.    

The figures have fallen since Morocco stepped up its fight against irregular migration in coordination with European and Spanish authorities in a move which has pushed those desperate to reach Europe to seek out other
routes, notably via Algeria.

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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.