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Illegal Migrants Expelled from Spanish Islet

  • Caroline Arbour

SEVILLE — Spain has sent dozens of illegal migrants, who had been occupying a tiny island off of Africa’s Mediterranean coast, back to Morocco in accordance with an agreement reached with Rabat. Ten migrants have been allowed to remain in Spain.

In the hours before dawn, Spain's Guardia Civil and the Moroccan Gendarmerie began removing illegal migrants from Isla de Tierra, an uninhabited Spanish islet off the North African coast.

Some swam to the tiny island last Wednesday, with most having arrived Sunday.

The Guardia Civil had supplied them with water, food and blankets, pending instructions on their removal.

According to Madrid’s delegate in the Spanish enclave of Melilla, the migrants are thought to be from Sub-Saharan Africa, with possibly a few from Argentina.

Abdelmalik El Barkani told Spain’s national public radio the operation went smoothly.

Ten women and children were taken to a military garrison late Monday and examined in hospital in Melilla as a precaution. At least one of the women is pregnant and the children range in age from 10 months to 16-years old, but they are said to be in good health. They will be able to stay in Spain.

The rest of the migrants, 73 in total, were transferred to Morocco.

The incident, and an attempt by 160 others to breach the fence Monday at the border between Melilla and Morocco, concerns Spanish authorities.

Foreign Affairs Minister José Manuel García Margallo says it is clear the problem is linked to criminals who deal in human trafficking.

More than 5,400 illegal migrants arrived in Spain last year, mostly by boat - up slightly from 2010.

But State Secretary for Security Ignacio Ulloa Rubio noted earlier this year the current migration is far less than the 39,000 who sought refuge in Spain in 2006.

But in a country struggling with record unemployment and an economic crisis it cannot shake, illegal immigration is a delicate subject.