According to Reuters, about 19,000 immigrants arrived in Spain in the first five months of 2018 seeking asylum. For the first time, this inflow has eclipsed the number of immigrants migrating through north Africa to Italy. As the influx is intensifying in the coming weeks as the new Italian government shuts down its ports to most asylum-seekers.
Thus, Spain has become the central entry point for immigrants fleeing Africa with the intention to seek asylum. This large influx has raised many concerns amongst European Union officials. The EU fears this influx of immigrants could deepen political tensions across the region over migration. As a result, the EU has been struggling to contain dissent over its migration policy. As many officials have expressed their concern for Spain becoming a new flash-point. EU officials in Brussels cannot come to consensus on a joint response to migration. However, leaders have pledged to support Madrid and Morocco in their efforst to mitigate the issue.
Spain’s recently elected Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, has been very welcoming and allowed two boat-loads of asylum-seekers, who were initially denied entry through Italian ports, to enter the borders. Asylum-seekers seem to be arriving in mostly inflatable boats, sometimes without sufficient fuel to cross the borders of Spain, thereby straining Spain’s coastguard. Due to this issue, Madrid is training more lifeguards to handle the rising numbers of asylum-seekers.
The recent rise in asylum-seekers has also attracted the attention of people-smugglers in Morocco. Oriol Estrada, a coastguard official claimed, “The people traffickers know that the lifeguards are going to come for them. They call to say that a certain boat has left such-and-such a coast at a certain time with however many people. They even give the names of those aboard.” Estrada claims his vessel has rescued about 1,200 people (more than 80 percent of its total for 2017) so far as a result of trafficking attempts. A similar situation occurred in Libya before Rome’s recent crackdown. In fact, Italy’s ruling League party accused the rescue ships of operating a taxi service.
Rescue officials also explained that more Asian migrants are arriving from countries such as Pakistan and Sri Lanka. This indicates that the smuggling networks have focused their efforts on Spain as an entry point.
North African nations are also taking initiative to address the migration issue. Morocco, for instance, claimed it would be boosting its efforts to fight illegal immigration, specifically in the summer which is the busiest time for sea crossings. Mustapha El Khalfi, a government spokesperson said, “Morocco is committed to cooperating with its partners in the fight against illegal migration.”