Spanish police have arrested several people suspected of migrant smuggling of minors as part of a crackdown on illegal trafficking networks.
Spanish authorities arrested several people involved in a criminal organization for providing false documents so migrants could travel from the Canary Islands to other countries in Europe, the Spanish news platform Canaris7 reported on May 13.
The leader of the organization was arrested as he was allegedly preparing to facilitate the departure of two minors from Valencia to Italy. Police searched three addresses and seized numerous documents, passports, money, and mobile phones.
The perpetrators reportedly recruited the migrants, who were mainly minors from North Africa who had recently arrived in the Canary Islands by boat. The alleged smugglers detained the migrants while they prepared documents that falsified their age so they could secure flights.
In a statement, a ministry said: "Once obtained, they were taken to the different Canarian airports and provided them with the necessary information to avoid being detected. On most occasions, members of the organization accompanied them during the air journey, thus ensuring the return of the documentation."
Spanish authorities reported that those arrested are believed to be part of criminal networks based in Morocco and other parts of Europe that offer smuggling services that include boat transport from Morocco to the Canary Islands and falsifying documentation needed to regularize their migration status.
The networks are estimated to have earned more than €100,000 for organizing more than 100 departures from the Canary Islands, reports Canarias7. An undisclosed number of those who used their network's services by using a fake passport or one in the name of a third party were also arrested during the investigation.
Crackdown on smuggling networks
In recent months, Spanish police have arrested dozens of people who were involved in migrant smuggling.
In November, the Spanish police together with the Civil Guard, dismantled a criminal organization based in Gran Canaria that was also providing migrants with false documentation to travel to the peninsula or other parts of the European Union.
The following month, another group involved in the illegal trafficking of immigrants through the use of forged documentation was also arrested.
Surge of underage migrants
The level of irregular migration from West and North Africa to Spain’s Canary Islands surged between the years 2020 and 2022. Between January 2020 and late October 2022, an estimated 60,427 migrants arrived in the Canary Islands. In comparison, for the 10-year period of January 2009 to December 2019, there were more than 9,500 arrivals.
🎧 Also read and listen: Tales from the Border, crossing the vast Atlantic Ocean
The number of unaccompanied minors, now estimated at more than 2,600, arriving on the shores of the Canary Islands has alarmed Spanish authorities.
Last year, regional officials had already warned that centers for unaccompanied minors in the Canary Islands had reached saturation point.
A government official said that some adults declared themselves minors to access youth centers. The process for official recognition of their age can take weeks, clogging up youth facilities.
Data collected by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) showed that there were more than 1,500 deaths on the Atlantic Ocean route from West Africa to Spain’s Canary Islands since 2021.
The departure of many people from West African countries on the West Africa-Atlantic Route (WAAR) to the Canary Islands has been a constant trend since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
Deadly migration route
According to the Spanish Ministry of the Interior, 15,682 people arrived irregularly in the Canary Islands in 2022, a decrease of 30% compared to the previous year.
However, flows along this dangerous route since 2020 remain high compared to prior years.
Migrants make the perilous crossing on scrappy wooden boats that are no match for the tides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Last year, there were 43 shipwrecks recorded along the WAAR in 2022. At least 559 died, half of whom were presumed drowned as their remains could not be recovered after a shipwreck.
According to the IOM, more than 5,600 migrants have died since January 2021 trying to reach Europe.
Earlier this year, Spain renewed its migration and business deals with Morocco in an attempt to control the numbers of those trying to leave Morocco and enter Europe via Spain.
According to the news agency Associated Press (AP) the package of agreements included an "€800 million incentive to encourage investment by Spanish firms in Morocco, as well as two memorandums on migration and several deals for education and job training."