August 19, 2006

African migrants reach Canary Islands

MADRID (Reuters) - Hundreds of illegal migrants reached the
shores of Spain's Canary Islands at the weekend after traveling
in wooden boats from West Africa, the islands' emergency
services said on Saturday.

Six boats carrying 506 people landed on Tenerife and La
Gomera on Friday. On Saturday another two reached Tenerife and
one came ashore on the smaller island of Hierro with 320
Africans on board between them, a spokeswoman said.

Reception centers on the Canary Islands, off the coast of
Morocco, are already overflowing and the regional government
has repeatedly called on Madrid for help.

Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who is on
holiday in the Canaries, was due to visit two reception centers
later on Saturday.

The islands are one of Spain's most popular tourist
destinations, particularly in the winter months.

With Saturday's boats, more than 17,000 illegal migrants
have landed on the islands so far this year, fleeing poverty in
their home countries.

Many come via Mauritania, which has become a center for
trafficking due to stricter border controls in Morocco.

"Every day we find we've broken the sad record of arrivals
of the day before," the Canary Island President Adan Martin
Menis said earlier this week. He has called for the European
Union to help Spain deal with the influx.

Spain has made limited progress in agreeing repatriation
deals with the West African countries involved. Daily newspaper
ABC said on Saturday only 8 percent of illegal migrants had
been sent back so far this year.