MADRID, Sept 4, 2012 (AFP)
MADRID, Sept 4, 2012 (AFP)
Spanish security forces launched a night time operation lasting into the early hours Tuesday to evict 73 immigrants from a tiny islet just off Morocco, officials said.
Spain’s Guardia Civil police acted after scores of immigrants landed in the past week on the bare, rocky surface of Isla de Tierra, which lies an easy swim off the beach and is as long as two football pitches.
Since the uninhabited rock is Spanish sovereign territory, Spain feared it could open a new doorway to immigrants desperate to reach Europe and escape poverty and unrest.
“The Spanish Guardia Civil evicted them,” said a spokesman for Spanish Interior Ministry.
“Many of the immigrants did not want to go Morocco, but there was no need to use force nor any troubles,” the spokesman said. Sea conditions had calmed, allowing Spain to move in, he said.
The operation was completed at 4.30 am (0230 GMT). Before the 73 were evicted, Spain’s Guardia Civil had already moved 10 women and children off the island to the Spanish territory of Melilla, he said.
Melilla and Ceuta are two tiny Spanish exclaves in Morocco, the only land frontier between Africa and Europe.
Spain enlisted Morocco’s help in the operation, fearing that a sprinkling of uninhabited Spanish-owned rocks off the coast off Morocco could become a new destination for immigrants.
“The eviction was handled entirely by the Guardia Civil but obviously together with Morocco because the Guardia Civil handed the immigrants over to their Moroccan counterparts,” the spokesman said.
“The object is not so much to have to act like this but to avoid more immigrants arriving on Spanish rocks.”
Photos in the online editions of Spanish daily El Pais and El Mundo showed Guardia Civil apparently ferrying the immigrants to land by dinghy.
Immigrants were shown in the hands of police, some in handcuffs, wading the final few metres to the beach to waiting Moroccan security forces.
In Rabat, Moroccan authorities said two migrants had been lightly injured in the operation.
An official of the Moroccan security forces said some 70 sub-Saharan migrants had been sent back to Morocco and “taken charge of” by the security forces.
According to the official, the migrants had crossed into Morocco from Algeria and would be expelled.
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said on Monday that he was convinced the migrants’ arrival on the islet was coordinated by “mafia who traffic human beings”.
The stakes are high for Spain and the European Union, with hundreds of people frequently trying to enter Ceuta and Melilla by force.
Spanish authorities said Morocco’s King Mohammed VI played a decisive role in agreeing to help deal with the migrants, and they hoped for further cooperation to prevent any repetition.
“The joint response of the Spanish and Moroccan governments, and the European Union, is to say ‘That’s enough’ to those who traffic human beings, endangering the lives of the most vulnerable like pregnant women and young children,” the Spanish prefect in Melilla, Abdelmalik El Barkani, told Spanish public radio.