AN UNBEARABLE TRAGEDY

In just five days last week, 46 sub-Saharan immigrants lost their lives in three separate incidents while trying to enter the country via Motril, Almeria and the Canary Islands. It was an unprecedented number of deaths in such a short time. Speaking at a press conference during his official visit to Athens last Thursday, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez described the first two incidents as a “terrible, almost unbearable tragedy”. He was speaking before another patera (boat) was rescued off the coast of La Gomera in the Canary Islands with 55 immigrants and four bodies on board last Friday night. Two of the survivors died in the early hours of Saturday morning and another nine are in a critical state. The tragedy started last Monday as a Sea Rescue patrol boat escorted a patera with 37 immigrants on board towards Motril in Granada province. A huge wave overturned the patera just off the isle of Alborán, 40 km from the coast, and the rescuers only managed to save 20 men and three women, one heavily pregnant. The other 14 were lost at sea and searches by helicopter and boat were unable to locate the bodies. Last Wednesday, another patera arrived in Almeria port with 33 immigrants on board, including eight women and a baby boy who was suffering from fever and dehydration. Red Cross workers were horrified to discover that another 15, nine of them small children aged one to four, had died during the crossing and their bodies had been thrown overboard. One woman in a state of shock repeatedly asked the Red Cross workers to find her two children, believing they were lost in the confusion at the port. Last week’s dead brought the number of immigrants believed to have died so far this year to 75, although it is a figure difficult to verify because most of the bodies are disposed of at sea and the authorities only have the survivors accounts to go on. Last year, for example, between 900 and 3,500 immigrants died while trying to reach Spain, according to the different associations that tried to keep count. The authorities have already granted asylum to two of last week’s survivors – a man who lost his wife and two-year-old daughter as well as a brother, and the pregnant woman in the first boat. When illegal immigrants are rescued, they are usually sent to internment centres to await repatriation but the authorities have been very vague about what they plan to do with last week’s survivors. This leads observers to suspect that some of them will be allowed to stay in Spain. Red Cross workers have said that the immigrants who arrived in Almeria, won’t fully realise what has happened to them “for many days”. They said the women who lost their children remember nothing about the crossing. Meanwhile, another 4,000 or so Africans are said to be in Morocco, waiting for pateras to bring them to Spain, undeterred by offshore patrols and certain repatriation for those who make it.

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