From file: Sub-Saharan migrants disembark from a search and rescue vessel at the port of Motril in southern Spain on April 27, 2019 | Photo: Miguel Paquet/EPA
From file: Sub-Saharan migrants disembark from a search and rescue vessel at the port of Motril in southern Spain on April 27, 2019 | Photo: Miguel Paquet/EPA

Of late, more migrant boats have been arriving on Spain's Balearic Islands compared with the normally more frequented route to the Canary Islands. This indicates that migration routes to Spain from Africa could be shifting.

A large number of boats carrying migrants have landed on the Balearic Islands in recent days, highlighting a possible shift from the Atlantic Canary Islands route to the western Mediterranean route to south and southeastern mainland Spain.

Between the end of last week and the beginning of this week, dozens of migrants arrived on the shores of the Balearic Islands and southeastern Spain.

Spanish authorities said that between Saturday and Monday, they had intercepted and assisted over 500 people in coastal areas of the Balearic Islands, including the islands of Ibiza and Formentera, as well as areas of southern and southeastern Spain such as the provinces of Granada, Almería and Murcia. That's according to the EFE news agency.

According to the latest numbers published by UN migration agency IOM, the numbers of sea arrivals to the Canary Islands via the Atlantic and to Southwestern Spain via the western Mediterranean this year are similar with 10,307 and 10,600, respectively.

Map of Spain's Belearic Islands and Algeria's Mediterrean coast | Source: Google Maps
Map of Spain's Belearic Islands and Algeria's Mediterrean coast | Source: Google Maps

Different home countries

Unlike the migrants arriving on the Canary Islands -- many of whom are from sub-Saharan Africa -- most of those arriving to the Balearic Islands say they were from northern African countries. In both locations, most of the new arrivals are men.

In the western Mediterranean, most boats that arrive are small and typically carry no more than 20 people. Boats arriving on one of the Canary Islands, in contrast, often have 40 to 50 passengers who oftentimes include women and children.

Read more: 'Each boat is in danger' – the rescue of migrants trying to reach the Canary Islands

According to the EFE news agency, some of the boats that arrived in southern and southeastern Spain managed to reach the coast without help from Spanish rescue teams.

Several local media reported that one of those who arrived was a boy, probably a minor. Once he arrived in the coastal city of Carboneras Saturday night, he tried to flee from the Spanish authorities and climbed up a cliff, from which he fell and died. Another person, who was with the victim, was rescued after suffering several injuries.

As noted by migration experts consulted by EFE, the recent increase in the number of landings on the Balearic Islands and the southeastern area of mainland Spain could be the result of some changes in surveillance at the points at which migrants normally leave, mainly in Morocco and Algeria.

"The routes do not disappear but do change over time," said Blanca Garcés, a researcher for the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB).

Increase of almost 50% on 2020

The latest official figures on documented migration released by the Spanish interior ministry (as of August 29) show that 20,491 people have arrived in Spain since the beginning of the year, almost twice as many compared to the same period in 2020. This year's number includes 9,255 arrivals to the Canary Islands and 9,075 on the coasts of the Balearic Islands and mainland Spain.

These figures do not include the about 10,000 people who arrived in May at the Ceuta enclave within a 48-hour period, many of whom were later sent back to Morocco or left of their own accord in the following days.

The Canaries' emergency services reported that it had assisted over 200 people since Monday afternoon. EFE reported that other boats had been sighted, one of which with a corpse on board. According to the NGO Caminando Fronteras, more than 1,900 people lost their lives on this route in the first six months of 2021. The IOM, on the other hand, has recorded 516 deaths so far this year.

In the last four months of 2020 alone, almost 20,000 African migrants landed on the shores of the Canaries, overwhelming authorities and arrival facilities.

 

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