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Change of Migration Routes Boosts Arrivals in Spain

Migrants disembark from the the Open Arms boat, in Algeciras, Spain, Aug. 9, 2018, after being rescued off the coast of Libya.

The International Organization for Migration says the number of African migrants coming to Spain is rising while the number coming to Italy is falling.

The IOM says 47,000 irregular migrants have entered Spain using the Western Mediterranean over the past two years, a huge increase from the steady trickle taking that route in previous decades.

IOM spokesman Joel Millman said the nationalities of the migrants arriving in Spain mirror those that used to leave Libya for Italy. He told VOA migrants from Guinea, Gambia, Mali, Senegal and Ivory Coast appear to have changed the route they traditionally followed to reach European shores.

“It indicates that probably West African migrants who were using the Sahara route up to Agadez into Tripoli have realized that the expense, the danger, the risk and then what happens to them in Libya all combine to make that a less attractive route than what had been an older route up along the coast into Morocco. So, they seem to be returning to that route,” he said.

Libya has seen a virtual flood of refugees and migrants in the past half-decade. But human rights groups say tens of thousands have fallen victim to abuse, torture, kidnappings for ransom and exploitation by smugglers, traffickers, and organized crime syndicates.

The IOM says 25,000 migrants have arrived in Spain this year compared to 19,200 arrivals in Italy. While that is a large number for Spain, Millman said Italy used to receive that number of arrivals every month during the peak migration years of 2014 and 2015.

IOM data also show that two-thirds of the nearly 1,500 migrant deaths in the Mediterranean this year have happened on the route to Italy.

Millman said no one is sure why deaths on the route to Spain is so low, but speculates that people in Spain are on the lookout for incoming boats and may be responding faster and better to those that appear to be in trouble.