MADRID, Spain – Spanish police caught more than 1,100 Africans trying to reach the Canary Islands — a record for a weekend — after long, dangerous trips in overcrowded boats that set out from Mauritania, officials said Sunday.
At least 12 boats carrying 1,196 people reached the islands in the span of 36 hours, Civil Guard officials said. All the Sub-Saharan migrants, including children, were in good health, they added.
Some 674 arrived Saturday in eight boats and 522 reached shore in five boats on Sunday.
More than 20,000 Africans have been intercepted so far this year in the archipelago, and the number for August alone exceeds that for all of 2005, according to Spanish authorities. Spain has asked the European Union, the United Nations and the international community to assist witht he situation.
Overwhelmed by a flood of destitute would-be immigrants of this summer, the government on Friday announced it is organizing a ministerial-level conference of southern European countries to seek a joint response to the crisis.
Spain is inviting interior and defense ministers from eight countries to the crisis meeting, to be held this month in Madrid. The ministers will talk about issues such as coastal surveillance, rescue operations and repatriation, and have a proposal ready for a summit of European Union leaders in December.
Other than Spain, the countries invited are France, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, Malta and Slovenia.
Spanish Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega traveled to Brussels last week to press EU officials for more help and express Spanish frustration with an EU plan to monitor African waters from the air and sea, which was approved in May and has yet to begin in earnest.
Last year authorities caught 4,751 African migrants trying to reach the Canary Islands, the vast majority packed into narrow, open boats that sometimes take weeks to make the dangerous voyages. Thousands more are believed to have died in the choppy seas.
Those who make it are kept in holding centers, and authorities have 40 days to repatriate them before they must release them. The immigrants are either sent back to their country of origin or to the country from which they set sail, if Spain has repatriation accords with that country.