Spain, Italy struggle with surge in African migrants

Madrid - Spain and Italy struggled to cope Wednesday with a huge surge of African immigrants, plucking more than 2 300 people from flimsy vessels in just 24 hours as they made desperate attempts to reach the shores of southern Europe.

Enticed by a spell of calm weather, the number of Africans risking their lives on dinghies has surged to unprecedented levels, officials said.

Spain's government said it was sending nearly 500 police reinforcements to cope with the flow.

The Spanish maritime rescue services said it had picked up 920 people including 26 children from the Gibraltar Strait on Tuesday, and another 10 men trying to reach Spain on a dinghy on Wednesday morning.

The Italian Navy said nearly 1 400 immigrants, many without life vests, had been rescued from the Mediterranean in 24 hours.

That brings the total to more than 98 000 rescued this year, said Italian senior immigration official Mario Morcone.

"These are people coming to Italy not for tourism but out of desperation. Many of them continue to lose their lives in these crossings despite our efforts," he told Italian radio Anch'io.

EU border agency Frontex told AFP this week that the number of boat migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Italy and Malta had soared to 78 300 in the first seven months of 2014 from 12 915 a year earlier.

Spain's Red Cross, which cared for the migrants on their arrival at the southern Spanish coastal town of Tarifa, said the influx on Tuesday was the biggest it had witnessed.

"We have never seen so many in a single day," a Red Cross spokesperson told public radio.

Biggest wave

A total of nearly 1 300 immigrants have been picked up in the waters off southern Spain in the past four days and are now crammed into temporary accommodation including a large gymnasium.

Migrants, many wrapped in red blankets, slept or rested on the floor of the gymnasium.

"If the number of immigrants we rescue carries on growing we will need more space," said Javier de Torre, a government official in Cadiz, near the immigrants' arrival point of Tarifa.

About 200 migrants had been identified and would soon be moved to immigrant detention centres, Tarifa town hall said in a statement.

"The biggest wave of migrants in our history has been handled smoothly," Tarifa mayor Juan Andres Gil said in the statement.

The Strait of Gibraltar separates Spain and Morocco by only 15km, making it one of the key smuggling routes for illegal immigrants crossing into Europe.

While many attempt to reach Europe by boat, a smaller number make a bid by land, scrambling over border fences around Spain's tiny north African territories of Melilla and Ceuta.

Tried to swim

Around 600 people tried to scale the triple-layer six-metre-high razor-wire barrier that separates Morocco from Melilla in a pre-dawn assault on Wednesday, said Irene Flores, spokesperson for the Spanish government in Melilla.

Four of them were injured after perching on the top of the fence, and were allowed by police to enter the city for medical treatment, she told AFP.

The previous day, some 700 sub-Saharan African migrants had used makeshift wooden ladders to try scale the barrier, local officials said. About 80 made it across to Melilla.

Spain is deploying a total 475 police reinforcements to Melilla, Ceuta and the southern port of Algeciras, the government said after a meeting called by Interior Minister Jorge Fernandez Diaz.

More than half the extra police will go to Melilla.

Spanish border security numbers had already been strengthened after five migrants drowned in February while trying to swim to Ceuta from a nearby beach.

Read more on: spain italy migrants
Gary Kerwin 2014-08-13 09:51:26 PM
This situation just shows that Africa needs responsible leaders who have their citizens interests at heart.
Noel Hagen 2014-08-13 09:55:50 PM
The normal African disaster. They will rather risk their lives to live with the colonists than live in their own countries.
Wentzel Coetzer 2014-08-13 09:58:28 PM
Why do they want to go to the terrible rasist colonialists They wanted all whites from Africa now they run after them does not make any sense they got the land now why leave all they wanted in the first place behind In 20 years time they will run Italy and demand higher wages and land
Hauke Liefferink 2014-08-13 10:28:21 PM
The Europeans need soccer players for their national teams. This is good for them. Their best players are African...
Mageba 2014-08-13 10:35:43 PM
The idiotic ignorant commentators are out in full force I see... Even massaging each other's inflated egos ...
William Ronga 2014-08-13 11:09:10 PM
Mageba!!! Why do you never see any european migrants on boats , rafts landing on north african beaches !?&$)(;
Ed Vermaak 2014-08-13 11:39:31 PM
Send them to USA, Russia or China. Those three supremests seem to have their sticky fingers in every pie of every nation trying their utmost to destabilise any situation for their own benefit, causing all these problems.
Hugo Diedericks 2014-08-14 01:09:39 AM
Wonder what Mugabe thinks about this.... Africa is for Africans... Yet they always try to take over anything non African.....? Don't see people fighting to get into Chimpbabwe!
Dirk Engelbrecht 2014-08-14 04:49:41 AM
Seems like Africans wants to live anywhere except in there own country... Europe can be glad that Mozambique and Zimbabwe are far away from Spain and Italy... Then you would have had a bigger problem. And if South Africa was close to one of those countries then Malema would have wanted to nationalized it as well...
Sikhumbuzo Touch Thabede 2014-08-14 05:18:18 AM
People in this site are so angry, it makes me wonder how they go about living everyday. There are more things to life than black and white