A third migrant route appears to be opening up across the Mediterranean as the number of migrants landing along Spain’s coastline has tripled this year.
Between January and April 2016, some 1,026 migrants arrived in Europe via Spain. But that number has shot up in the same period of 2017 to more than 3,300, making the Spanish route the fastest growing in the Mediterranean.
In the last week alone, there has been a fresh surge in arrivals. On Wednesday, more than 100 migrants were picked up by the Spanish coastguard from three boats near Alborán, a rocky outcrop halfway between Spain and Morocco, The Telegraph has reported.
Those migrants were in addition to the more than 200 plucked from six boats along the Andalusian coastline within a week – more than half of them on Saturday alone.
Although the proximity to Morocco makes Spain an obvious target – and a historical crossing point for migrants moving northward to Europe – cooperation between the Spanish and Moroccan governments had kept numbers subdued even at the height of the migrant crisis in 2015/16.
But Turkey’s actions in quelling migration to Greece have all but closed off the Eastern route, sending migrant numbers plummeting to 7,043 in the first four months of this year, down from a staggering 156,267 over the same period in 2016, and driving the migrants westwards.
Ten years ago, the route through Spain was used mainly by economic migrants from North Africa looking for quick passage across the sea. But conflicts in Mali, Sudan, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic are re-energising the route, which is also being used by a handful of Syrians.
Consequently, deaths in Spanish waters now exceed those in Greek territory; 51 migrants have perished on the crossing to Spain this year, while 38 have drowned in the Aegean Sea. Both pale in comparison to the close to 1,500 who have died attempting to reach Italy so far this year.
The number of migrants arriving in Spain are still low compared to those seen in Italy – which itself has seen a 50 per cent rise on 2016 figures, with in excess of 60,000 arriving so far this year, mostly in Sicily. But the emergence of the new western route just as the eastern route is closing down suggests the migrant crisis is a problem that is not going away soon.