Migrant boats are being intercepted by the Guaria Civil | Credit: ANSA
Migrant boats are being intercepted by the Guaria Civil | Credit: ANSA

The mafia is using light, inflatable, Chinese-made plastic boats to traffic people, and hashish, between Morocco and Spain. The ability to smuggle more people, more quickly is putting pressure on the Spanish authorities.

The mafia is using better and faster boats to smuggle people across the Mediterranean, which is increasing migratory pressure on Spain. In a statement on Monday in the El Mundo daily, Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency, was quoted as saying that fast boats, linked to hashish trafficking, are being used. They are able to transport many people in a short amount of time. The vessels are said to be light, inflatable plastic boats that are made in China. 

Faster boats and instability foster migration 

The drop in the number of people taking the Balkan route, or crossing to Italy from Libya, has meant an increase in the number of migrants that are now choosing the eastern Mediterranean route between Morocco and Spain. Another factor contributing the the rise in numbers making this crossing is the instability in the mountainous Rif region in northern Morocco. Together with the growing use of larger capacity boats, there was an unprecedented increase in landings on Spanish coast last year. Frontex's executive director, Fabrice Leggeri, will be in Madrid on Friday to discuss the current emergency. 

A Frontex spokesman said that the Spanish route "is more accessible than others not only due to the 'short distance' from the African continent across the Strait of Gibraltar, but also due to the recent use of powerful, rapid boats usually used for hashish trafficking that are able to transport many people in a short amount of time. Simultaneous departures to make it difficult for border control authorities to intercept all of them." 

Protests in Morocco's Rif region have led to an exodus of young people from the country and have catalyzed the actions of Moroccan police, forced to "give priority" to interventions "for public order instead of guarding the coasts," according to sources working against clandestine immigration. On Saturday, over 150 migrants were rescued in the Alboran Sea while travelling on six unseaworthy boats and inflatable canoes that had left from the Moroccan coast of Alhucemas. 

According to Jose Antonio Nieto, Spain's secretariat of state security, "north Africa is seeing strong migratory pressure due, among other things, to the serious instability in some of the countries in the continent" and their "low development indices,"  as well as "an improvement in the economic situation of Spain." 

The number of undocumented migrants who arrived on Spain's Mediterranean coast last year was at a record high, comparable only to a crisis a decade ago in the Canary Islands. Of the 28,349 people who arrived in the country, some 20,757 landed on the coasts of Andalusia, Communidad Valenciana, Murcia and the Balearic Islands. This was three times as many as numbers in 2016, according to Spanish interior ministry figures.

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