TARIFA, Spain, A radio message comes in from a Spanish maritime rescue boat to the service's command centre in the southern town of Tarifa: 34 migrants rescued.
The onset of autumn, with the cold, storms and fog, has not stopped
migrants from crossing the Mediterranean from Morocco to Spain, a journey
that has this year claimed the lives of hundreds of youths.
From the heights of Tarifa, veteran sailors work in shifts behind radar
screens at the rescue service command centre monitoring the Strait of
Gibraltar, through which 100,000 ships transit every year.
When the weather is good we can see homes in North Africa from here, said
its head, Adolfo Serrano.
Just 14 kilometres (nine miles) separates northern Morocco from Spain's
southern Andalusia region at the Strait's narrowest point.
But with a quickly changing sea, strong currents, fogs that can surprise
you, it's a dangerous crossing, added Serrano.
It is especially perilous because human traffickers put migrants on packed
inflatable boats or plastic canoes that can easily overturn, he said. 'Many
I can't remember an autumn like this. Boats keep arriving with pregnant
women, children, said Jose Antonio Parra, a mechanic of 25 years experience
with the Guardia Civil police force's maritime unit.
The 34 migrants rescued from an inflatable boat � including six females
who appeared to be in their teens � were taken to the port of Algeciras,
where they were first attended to by the Red Cross before being handed to
Small migrant boats are hard to detect by radar. They are often only
located when the migrants themselves sound the alarm by telephone.
Rescuers did not detect the boat which sunk on November 5 during a storm
off the coast of the town of Barbate, an hour's drive west of Algeciras,
killing 23 young Moroccans.
Only 21 people on board survived.
There was a hell of a storm. Many of them did not know how to swim, said
spokesman for the Guardia Civil in Cadiz province, Manuel Gonzalez.
Andalusia's regional government took charge of nine minors who survived,
while police jailed two passengers suspected of having steered the boat.
The other 10 adults who were on board were ordered back to Morocco under an
agreement between Madrid and Rabat.
Since then, more bodies have washed ashore on other beaches.
Nine subSaharan African migrants drowned after spending a week adrift at
sea, according to the only survivor of the ordeal, a Guinean teenager who saw
his brother die, said Gonzalez.
The migrants had paid 700 euros ($800 dollars) each for what they had been
told would be a trip on board a rigidhulled inflatable boat with an engine
but were instead forced to take a toystyle boat with just one oar, he
Between January and December 2, 687 migrants died trying to enter Spain by
sea, more than three times as many as last year, according to International
Organization for Migration (IOM) figures.
More migrants have died trying to reach Italy and Malta this year � nearly
1,300 � but Spain has become the main entry point for migrants trying to
reach Europe by sea. More than 55,000 migrants have arrived in the country so
far this year.
'Even the men cried'
Rescuers describe two types of migrants: SubSaharan African migrants, who
sing when rescuers arrive to pluck them from the sea, and Moroccans who try
at all costs to reach the shore without being detected because they face
deportation back to Morocco if caught.
Our boat rocked, there was so much joy, Abou Bacari, an 18yearold who
left Ivory Coast two years ago after he lost his job at a banana plantation,
told AFP in Madrid, as he recalled his rescue at sea off the Spanish coast in
There were 70 people on board the inflatable boat, including four children
and eight women, when it departed Tangiers for Spain, he said.
Guineans, Malians, Ivorians we were lost at sea for two days, Bacari
said, adding even the men cried when the boat developed a puncture.
On some days � such as last weekend � as many as over 500 migrants can be
brought to shore by Spain's maritime rescuers.
I had never before seen a boat just with 45 migrants aged around 1415 on
board. Even the one who steered it, who supposedly worked for the
traffickers, was a minor, said Parra.
It's now 30 years since the first photo of the body of a drowned migrant on
a beach in Andalusia was published.
Today rows of tombstones at Tarifa's cemetery mark where unnamed migrants
Sometimes we find migrants with their names tattooed on their arms in case
they die. We are seeing a normalisation of death and that is unacceptable,
said Jose Villajos, the head of an association that helps migrants founded in
Algeciras in 1991.
He accused the European Union of using North African countries to stop
migration and act a bit like Europe's police but this policy leads to even
When agreements are being ironed out with African countries like Morocco,
curiously, the number of migrant boats increase greatly because it is a way
to put pressure on Europe, he claimed.
Maria Jesus Herrera, the head of the IOM mission in Spain, said that while
it was important to increase cooperation with the migrants' country of origin
to help boost their living standards, Europe must at the same time open
regular channels of emigration, which are safe and dignified.
Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)