For a few years now, Spain has deployed a sophisticated radar system that tracks illegal boat people. As recent as last week, some 1,219 crossed the Straits of Gibraltar in 125 boats – and that was in just 72 hours. Of this number, 98 were women and 30 were children. They were taken to the Tarifa sports centre for Red Cross medical checks; this venue is being used as the local immigration temporary holding centre is already full.
There is a build-up along the coast of Tangier of people seeking a means to cross the Straits – despite Morocco’s attempts at seizing them; it was even reported that the numbers were so great that the authorities turned a blind eye for 48 hours in order to reduce the numbers!
Here on the Costa Blanca last week three boats were intercepted, holding 13 adults and six children, Moroccans or Algerians. Usually, after medical checks – the main problem is dehydration – they are sent to centres for internment of foreigners in Murcia or Valencia. The children are sent to a child protection centre.
Of course, besides the increased load on receiving countries’ infrastructure – hospitals, schools, police – there is the very real concern that among these illegal immigrants may be individuals intent on doing great harm; and latterly, there is now the concern over the spread of the dreaded Ebola disease.
My short story ‘Adopted Country’ touches on this subject:
It was a motley collection of humanity: pregnant women with hypothermia, children whose ribcages were visible through the taut skin, and once-strong lithe men with exhausted faces and wary eyes. A short distance, but often a treacherous journey. Even though they were staring down the barrels of guns, these were the lucky ones. Countless people died making the crossing every year. Desperation does that.
Since my country’s agreement with Morocco and the erection of barbed wire along the common border, it is now virtually impossible to enter Spain through the Ceuta route. So thousands go further along the North African coast and pay their entire savings to board any old boat that will sail for Tarifa or some other beach along the southern coast of Spain. Thousands even attempt the seven hundred mile crossing to the Canary Islands, and many more perish in the attempt.- Spanish Eye, p27.
And the beginning of my novel Blood of the Dragon Trees shows the arrival of a boat-load of illegal immigrants – and later reveals the consequences they face:
His face shaded by a Norfolk hat, Andrew Kirby studied the crowd of holidaymakers and locals gathered on the edge of the Los Cristianos dockside, opposite the many expensive yachts and luxury cruisers. A few tourists pointed digital cameras and camcorders.
Beside him – on the official side of an area cordoned-off by police tape – stood Lieutenant Vargas. Beneath his olive green cap, Vargas’s dark eyes scanned the area from behind designer sunglasses.
Vargas gestured at the beach. ‘As you can see, Mr Kirby, I have my hands full these days.’ He spoke in English as Kirby had confessed his Spanish wasn’t too good.
‘Yes, I can see only too well,’ Kirby replied. Tall, blond, tanned and dressed in khaki shirt and shorts, Kirby felt rather unkempt next to Vargas, who was immaculate in his avocado green uniform with its two gold star shoulder-flashes. Vargas had thick lips, a prominent chin and slightly protruding ears. He exuded competence and authority.
Kirby looked out to sea. Offshore, the twin diesels of the Guardia Civil boat Rio Palma purred, perhaps reflecting the satisfaction of its crew.
Forty-four African illegal immigrants were being helped ashore from their dilapidated 30ft-long open boat. The immigrants struggled to stand, their legs unused to firm ground after a seven hundred mile sea journey. Policemen wore protective facemasks and paper bodysuits and, with practiced ease, they stripped the Africans of their filthy clothing and dressed them in garish shell-suits and flip-flops. A mobile field hospital was drawn up on the dockside. Ambulances started ferrying the few who were being brought ashore on stretchers.
A handful of onlookers moved closer then hastily backed off, their faces revealing disgust and shock.
‘They’ve just seen and smelled death,’ Vargas said, eyeing Kirby. ‘Coastguard radioed there were two dead still onboard – five had been thrown into the sea two days ago. Already this year, we’ve handled over two thousand of these boat people – though perhaps that same number perished at sea also.’
'A terrible waste.’
‘They seek a better life. Instead, they die at sea or end up for weeks in our internment center at Las Raíces, which is already over-subscribed.’
Spanish Eye - published by Crooked Cat Publishing
Amazon UK – 2 good reviews
Amazon COM – 6 good reviews
Blood of the Dragon Trees - published by Crooked Cat Publishing
Amazon COM – 6 good reviews