[ 28. Aug 2016 ]

New routes to reach Spain lead to more deaths at sea

In the first half of 2016, more people have died at sea trying to reach Spain than during 2015 as a whole. The reinforcement of border security measures and raids against undocumented migrants by Moroccan gendarmes has led to the development of longer, more treacherous routes, with new ports of departure emerging near the Morocco-Algeria border and the sea route to the Canary Islands re-opening.


At least 208 people are thought to have died during the crossing to Spain in the first six months of 2016, although the true figure is almost certainly higher. In 2015, the total number of known deaths was 195.

Despite the increasing number of deaths in the waters around Spain, "public opinion seems to have lost interest," Carlos Arce of the Andalucian Human Rights Association (Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía, APDHA) told La Vanguardia newspaper. [1]

Arce continued:

"the number of people who have died and disappeared trying to get to Spain can seem miniscule in the face of the immense drama that in the last six months has taken the life of 2,954 people in the Central Mediterranean and the Aegean, but this situation remains morally intolerable for a democratic country that respects human rights."

The newspaper cites statistics showing some 2,300 people arriving in Spain by sea in the first half of 2016. Some 367 undocumented migrants have arrived in the province of Cádiz - previously the most common landing point - while around 800 people have arrived on the coast of the province of Granada, 700 on the Almerian coast, and some 420 near Málaga, all further east.

This reflects new points of departure further to the east, towards Morocco's border with Algeria (and on occasions in Algeria itself), but others have also appeared further to the south. The number of people arriving on the Canary Islands has recently increased, with people leaving from locations such as Cabo Bojador in the Western Sahara.

Spanish officials have been keen to highlight the "success" of largely-shutting down the route to the Canary Islands over the last decade, undertaken through cooperation with the Maurtianian and Senegalese authorities and a quasi-military blockade of the coast through a Frontex-led joint operation, Hera.

In April 2015 Francisco Martinez, then-minister for security, boasted that there had been a 99% reduction in irregular migration from Mauritania and Senegal since 2006, and that only 296 people had arrived on the archipelago in 2014. [2]

However, according to the report in La Vanguardia, between January and November 2015 almost 700 people landed on the Canary Islands. This is the most dangerous way to reach Spain by sea: 73 of the 195 deaths in 2015 took place during journeys to the Canaries, more than on any other crossing.

These developments have come about due to the six-metre tall, double razor-wire fences in Ceuta and Melilla; intense surveillance of the Strait of Gibraltar; and an increasing number of raids by Moroccan gendarmerie forces against undocumented migrants - particularly those living in camps near the two Spanish enclaves.

As the report in La Vanguardia puts it, Moroccan security forces have been:

"unceremoniously hunting all those who don't have residency cards and deporting them to the interior of the country or to the border with Algeria." It claims that: "The mountains that surround Ceuta and Melilla, where thousands of people were gathered waiting to cross to Europe, are today practically empty."

The paper quotes one Alfred Busak from Guinea: he was told by Moroccan gendarmes they were just doing the work of Spain and the EU, who "pay a lot of money" to stop people getting to Europe.

Indeed, if Spanish public opinion has "lost interest" in the situation around Spain's southern borders, the government and big business certainly have not. According to a recent report, by 2020 Spain will have received over 484 million euros in EU funding for "border management", more than any other EU Member State. [3]

Beneficiaries of EU and Spanish national funding have frequently been companies such as the state-owned Isdefe, GMV (which has long-held the contracts for operating and maintaining the infrastructure for Eurosur), Airbus (which has done particularly well from selling helicopters to the Guardia Civil) and Indra, which has done significant work on Spain's border surveillance system, the Sistema Integrado de Vigiliancia Exterior (SIVE).

The cost of constructing and maintaining the razor-wire fences surrounding Ceuta and Melilla has been some 57 million euros since 2005. Companies such as Dragados, Ferrovial Agroman, Sallen and Indra have been the chief beneficiaries. [4]

The report published by Bez quotes Ruben Andersson, who has spent years studying the effects of the implementation of "border security":

"More investment [in "border security" measures] is equal to more chaos and misery at the borders, which leads to more panic and anxiety in the media, which in turn justifies more investments… We have to break this vicious circle, but it will have to be a long-term process and with a different conversation about our failed migration policies."


[1] Adolfo S. Ruiz, :: Nuevas vías, más muertos, La Vanguardia, 17 August 2016.
[2] :: Martínez pide la ejecución "inmediata" de las medidas para luchar contra la inmigración irregular, El Diario, 23 April 2015.
[3] Marta Molina, :: Cuatro empresas españolas, entre las que controlan el negocio de la seguridad en las fronteras, Bez, 16 August 2016.
[4] Yago Álvarez y Genoveva López, :: El gran negocio de la seguridad fronteriza, El Salmon Contracorriente, 11 August 2016.

Article published first on 26. Aug 2016 in ::