Migrants on flimsy boats leave Tangier coast for Spain

By Gavin Lee
BBC News, Tarifa, Spain

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Media caption, The migrants were a mix of North Africans and sub-Saharan Africans

More migrants are choosing to set sail for Spain from Morocco immediately to the east and west of the city of Tangier.

It has become known as the "Tangier Triangle". In the west, migrants mainly leave in the type of boat commonly seen on other European smuggling routes - small fishing boats and motorised rubber dinghies.

To the east of Tangier, migrants are crossing the Strait of Gibraltar in cheaper options: tiny, rubber paddle boats, with no motor and no need for smugglers and their fees.

Ben Khadair, from the Ivory Coast, said he put in €20 (£18; $23) to contribute to the €100 cost of a "toy boat" bought from a local shop. He and ten others spent 14 hours paddling in a boat designed for four, in a voyage he described as "suicidal".

He made it to a beach in Spain's southernmost city, Tarifa, but the majority don't make it to shore. Nor do they need to. Some aim only for Spanish waters, where they float and call for help.

This routine is now familiar. Some migrants are even using social media to alert the coastguard, dropping a Whatsapp location pin.

Fewer migrants - those who can afford to - pay smugglers up to €4,000 to take them across by jet ski in just 35 minutes. The Spanish coastguard says it is almost impossible to prevent, and about four to five people are landing on the beaches this way every day.

Image caption, Chance from Cameroon, aged five, brought his sketch game on to the paddle boat where he floated in Spanish waters for six hours with his family

So what are the reasons for the increase?

Authorities and aid workers say they do not know, but sense a number of things. One, that Morocco is a cheaper option than Libya for those using "toy boats", and one that bypasses the need for smugglers.

There is also a slight surge in the number of sub-Saharans travelling to Spain. Many migrants told me they had spent months researching the best routes, and via social media saw the Moroccan sea route had become more established, increasing the number willing to try.

EU coastguard staff at the border agency Frontex say that, from interviews they have held, another factor is the influence of some local Moroccan fishermen, who allegedly have become more willing to act as traffickers. It is apparently a quick way to make money - they allow migrants to disembark halfway across the Strait of Gibraltar, to make the rest of the journey in their smaller dinghies.

Image caption, The new "Tangier Triangle" departure area lies west of the Strait of Gibraltar

A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.

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