"The Strait of Gibraltar has become the new Lampedusa," according to Jose Ignacio Landaluce, mayor of Algeciras, one of the cities on Andalusia's southern coast that have found themselves at the center of the upsurge in sea arrivals in recent weeks. They have sounded the alarm as reception facilities reach the breaking point and NGOs are overstretched.
Sports centers have been opened as an emergency measure in the last 24 hours to take in the latest 972 individuals to arrive on dozens of small boats across the Strait of Gibraltar, the shortest crossing point from north Africa to the 'promised land' of Europe.
Reception facilities full to capacity
Reception facilities in Algeciras are full, said Landaluce, adding that if the arrivals continue to grow the situation "will be difficult to sustain". The closure of Italian and Maltese ports to NGOs operating migrant rescue missions off the Libyan coast has restricted the central Mediterranean route, forcing part of the migration flow to move west. The Spain of the new socialist premier Pedro Sanchez, who welcomed the NGO vessels Aqiarius and then Open Arms after they were refused permission to dock in Italy or Malta, would seem to be a more attractive destination for migrants and traffickers.
Arrivals in Andalusia have been increasing since May
Good weather in recent weeks and the domestic crisis in Morocco that has led part of the security forces to turn their attention away from migration control have contributed to increasing the flows across the Strait. 6,791 people made the crossing in June and 3,577 in the first half of July. This translates into an average of around 200 people a day with peaks of 600 last wekend. The Spanish government's representative in Andalusia Alfonso Rodriguez has announced funding to the tune of 3.4 million euros to address the situation and Madrid is calling for solidarity from the rest of Europe.
The army is building a new large reception centre in Cadiz. Spain is now the EU member state with the biggest number of arrivals by sea, 18,653 as of 18 July, up 120% over the same period in 2017. This compares to 17,838 arrivals in Italy and 14,490 in Greece. The "situation is complicated" warns Minister for Labour Magdalena Valerio.However, "the Mediterranean cannot be turned into a mass grave for people fleeing war and poverty," she added.