Spain to send diplomats to sub-Saharan Africa

Spain will send officials to Mauritania and other sub-Saharan African countries to try to stem a wave of desperate Africans making long, dangerous trips to the Canary Islands to try to enter Europe illegally, the Spanish Foreign Minister said Monday.

Over the weekend, nearly 1,000 Africans, the highest volume over a two-day period this year, were intercepted in boats off the coasts of the archipelago.

"We're thinking of sending several diplomats to the countries in the area to not only send a message of firmness to the authorities, but to find ways to avoid these waves of immigrants in the future," said Miguel Angel Moratinos from Brussels where he is attending a meeting of EU ministers.

Also on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega is to hold an emergency meeting with the interior and social affairs ministers to evaluate the situation in the archipelago, which has received more than 6,100 Africans so far this year.

Fernandez de la Vega announced on Sunday that the government will activate repatriations of illegal immigrants and that joint sea patrols with Mauritania, the most popular departure point for African boat people trying to reach Spain, will start on Monday.

The government has also raised budgets to help deal with the increased migration to the islands, including repatriation services.

Thousands of people try to reach Europe through Spain each year, an increasing number of them setting off from Mauritania and Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara. Almost all are intercepted.

Last year authorities caught 4,751 African migrants trying to reach the Canary Islands, the vast majority packed into narrow, open boats that sometimes take weeks to make the dangerous voyages. At least 1,000 more people are believed to have died in the choppy seas, reports the AP.

I.L.