The European Union's border agency announced Friday it had earmarked $2.7 million to help stop thousands of African immigrants from trying to reach Europe.
The funding will help bankroll the European Union's first ever joint sea patrol mission targeting Spain's Canary Islands, where nearly 10,000 illegal African immigrants have landed since January. Many of the immigrants are traveling from Senegal and other West African countries aboard dangerous, rickety boats. The enormous influx has posed a major immigration problem for Madrid.
Michal Parzyszek, spokesman for Frontex, the European border agency based in Warsaw, offered details about the operation.
"From the technical point of view we will send experts to the Canary Islands and they will focus their job on identification of illegal migrants, assurance of proper information flows between all parties and assisting Spanish authorities in terms of returning these illegal migrants to countries of origin," he said.
The European Union says at least 10 countries will contribute to the patrol mission. The EU also plans to send a fact-finding mission to Malta, another island that has witnessed a huge influx of immigrants bound for Europe.
"It's a big problem for them," he said. "It's like a few hundred percent increase in comparison to previous periods. So this is really huge."
The new assistance comes despite Senegal's decision to halt a new agreement with Spain to repatriate hundreds of illegal immigrants. Senegalese officials claim many of the migrants who were deported under the agreement Wednesday had been mistreated. Spanish police deny the allegations.
Senegal had been reluctant to repatriate the immigrants, arguing its economy - like that of other West African countries - relies partly on remittances sent back by migrants working in Europe.