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SANTA CRUZ — The authorities in the Canary Islands have urged José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to step in to the row over the tide of more than 1,000 migrants who have arrived in recent days.
Adán Martín, head of the Canary Islands regional government, wants to hold talks with the Spanish premier “as soon as possible”.
He claims Madrid failed to act in time to stop the recent deluge of arrivals from Western Africa since last Friday.
The Spanish government held an emergency meeting to try to deal with the crisis.
They agreed to deploy naval patrol ships which will try to stop the fleet of tiny kayaks arriving from Senegal and Mauritania.
Surveillance satellites and planes will also be used to monitor any boats trying to make the 1,200 kilometre journey.
Eighteen boats crammed with over 1,000 migrants from Senegal have arrived since Friday and resources have become overwhelmed on the islands.
Different sources said that it is the largest wave of illegal African migrants to come to the Canary Islands so far this year, and the regional government has called the situation “very serious”.
Most of the immigrants who have arrived are being housed in the Las Raices military barracks in the municipality of La Laguna on the island of Tenerife.
The largest wave of migrants came in on Saturday, when 456 Africans arrived in six boats in the port of Los Cristianos in the southern part of Tenerife, the same spot where 195 migrants had arrived aboard three vessels on Friday.
Between 2-4 March, a total of 478 illegal migrants arrived on the coasts of Gran Canaria, Tenerife and El Hierro.
In the face of the massive influx, Spanish deputy prime minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said the government will begin repatriating the undocumented migrants.
Fernandez de la Vega said that Madrid’s aim is to have “legal, ordered and regular” immigration and that to achieve that it would take measures that included repatriation of illegal migrants.
“Everyone should know that anyone who arrives in an irregular manner will go” back, said Fernandez de la Vega.
But she added that humanitarian conditions would be provided for the people who arrive and the repatriations would be carried out “with all guarantees” of proper processing and treatment.
For years, with the arrival of good weather in the Spring, thousands of African migrants have tried to cross the waters of the Atlantic and Mediterranean to get to Spain, where they hope to remain and find jobs or to use it as a route to other European countries.
(Posted on May 16, 2006)