Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, just 56 miles from El Aioun on the African coast, is now the EU’s most important entry point for illegal immigrants, far outstripping the Straits of Gibraltar as the preferred clandestine route to Europe.
Planes chartered by Spain’s interior ministry leave the islands nearly every day carrying dozens of would-be immigrants who are left to fend for themselves in Murcia, Valencia and Madrid.
The Interior Minister chartered 227 flights last year to transport 7,920 indocumentados from the Canaries to mainland Spain, dumping the impoverished, disoriented incomers from sub-Saharan Africa on the streets. The airlifts, costing €10,000 each (£7,000), were quietly introduced five years ago and have steadily increased, according to government sources quoted in El Mundo yesterday.
The scheme is a desperate attempt to solve the immigration crisis, where the relentless inflow has brought the Canaries’ resources to the point of collapse. In the great majority of cases, the unwanted guests cannot be expelled because they come from countries without a repatriation agreement with Spain, or they say they do—and without identity papers their claims cannot be disproved. When they wash up on the Canaries’ beaches in overladen little vessels—as 90 per cent of the 8,516 indocumentados did last year—they are taken into holding centres for questioning.
There they receive food and clothing from charities and recover from their hazardous and traumatic voyages. But since they have committed no crime in Spain, the law says they must be freed after 40 days. Often they are released early to make room for new arrivals.
The town hall of Valencia, alarmed by massive numbers of newly arrived Africans, issued a report last week into what it calls “flights of shame”, warning that many indocumentados carry contagious infections including tuberculosis and HIV. The report condemns the shuttle of people as “inhuman”.
“Neither the individual nor the town hall of their destination receive any information, so they are left totally without protection in various points of the city.” They sleep in parks and beneath bridges, subsist on charity and risk “marginalisation, prostitution and labour exploitation”, the report says.
The wider problem is that Spain’s annual influx of immigrants vastly exceeds expectations. The government reckons between 800,000 and a million indocumentados—most of them Latin Americans and Moroccans—arrived in Spain last year, while permits for immigrant workers were pegged at 30,000. They swell the pool of illegal immigrant labour—for which there is strong demand in construction, agriculture and services. Tacitly recognising the futility of stemming the tide, Madrid is trying to regularise the situation of long-term illegals by granting residence to those who have worked in Spain for three years. But Germany and The Netherlands criticise Spain for acting alone. “If some countries are regularising illegals, they cannot look just at their own situation because this decision could affect other countries,” said Otto Schily, Germany’s Interior Minister.
The Dutch immigration minister, Rita Verdonk, said: “We must discuss the consequences of such measures for other EU countries.”