I recently returned from a weekend break in the south of Spain, a favoured holiday destination for Brits seeking a bit of early spring sunshine. It seems we’re not alone in migrating to this rugged southern frontier; every year thousands of irregular migrants attempt the dangerous crossing from the coasts of north-west Africa to the Spanish peninsula in the hope of evading border controls and finding protection, work or family members in Europe. As I walked along the wind-blown Atlantic coastline just south of the tourist crowds of Seville, I came face to face with the evidence of this desperate undertaking.
A series of small fishing boats littered the beach, some consisting of only a few battered wooden boards, others still bearing the Arabic lettering that indicated their origin. Scattered around the boats were the sodden remains of clothing; a pair of jeans, a boot, a bloated jacket. They called to mind the bodies that once filled them. It is impossible to know who the individuals were, why they chose to take this perilous route into Europe and whether they survived the journey. According to Fortress Europe, at least 11,865 people have died since 1988 trying to cross the border into Europe. Of these, 8,173 died attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea or the Atlantic Ocean towards Spain.
Further up the beach a home-made cross had been planted at the foot of a sand-dune, the only testament to the loss of life in the Atlantic Ocean.
As the UK and other Member States increase the use of controls beyond the borders of the EU, migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, are forced to use unauthorised and dangerous methods to reach Europe in order to make a claim for asylum. The Refugee Council is working with NGOs in Spain and across the EU to ensure that border controls do not prevent refugees from reaching a country where their safety and protection is guaranteed. Our ‘Protection-sensitive borders’ project aims to assist the UK government to guarantee that its border control mechanisms do not force refugees into the hands, and fragile boats, of smugglers.
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Author – Sile