Spain seeks EU help to stop immigration in Canary Islands

More than 1,500 immigrants, including small children, have arrived on the Canary Islands in the past week, said Beatriz Cuarental, spokeswoman for the emergency rescue services of the Canary Islands.

Spain has recently stepped up air and sea surveillance, and is lauching a diplomatic offensive with West African countries to work with the local authorities and persuade them to help control the flow of illegal immigrants along the route.

Ten diplomats will fly to Gambia, Cape Verde,Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry and Niger, where many of the immigrants start their odyssey, the Foreign Minister announced Thursday, the AP reports.

Deputy Prime Minister Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said the government had asked the EU external border security agency to open a delegation on the archipelago, where nearly 650 migrants had arrived on nine boats within 24 hours, the largest one-day total ever. Another boat with 89 men on board arrived Friday in the south of the island of Tenerife, Cuarental said.

"It's obvious that those who arrive in Spain, also arrive in Europe," said Fernandez de la Vega after the weekly Cabinet meeting.

"Therefore, for a long time we have been determined that our EU partners assume the problem with us, because it's a problem for all of us," she said.

De la Vega also announced that Spain had launched a three-year "Africa Plan" to improve relations with Sub-Saharan African countries, through aid and new embassies in countries such as Mali, Sudan and Cape Verde. It hopes to persuade these countries to accept more deportees.

Thousands of people try to reachEurope through Spain each year, an increasing number of them setting off from Mauritania and Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara. The government says it catches virtually all of them.