(28 Jun 2018) A group of 35 unaccompanied Moroccan migrants arrived Thursday on a remote beach near the southern Spanish town of Tarifa.
The teenagers said they were all under 18 years old and that they had crossed the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco in about ten hours on an inflatable rubber boat.
The northern African coast, visible from Spanish shores on clear days, is only 14 kilometres (8.7 miles) away from Europe in Tarifa.
While migrants from other African countries look to be rescued in the Mediterranean Sea, adult Moroccans and Algerians face immediate return under bilateral agreements between the two countries’ governments and Spain.
Underage unaccompanied migrants are an exception. They are allowed to stay under the custody of Spanish authorities until they can usually prove links to relatives in the country.
Thursday's arrival was the latest in an upsurge of migration traffic in the so-called Western Mediterranean route.
Askanda Fopa Ponye was jubilant this week as he stepped out of an orange rescue vessel at Algeciras port along with 74 other migrants.
It was one of the latest groups arriving amid the intensifying wave taking the shortest route from Africa into Europe.
The journey across from Morocco to Spain has also become this week the most popular path into Europe for migrants like the 24-year-old Cameroonian, outpacing the stream of arrivals recorded this year in Italy or Greece.
After surviving a 9-month trip across Africa and a 10-hour overnight ordeal paddling northward from Morocco, Ponye arrived on Tuesday in Algeciras with nothing but determination to find a job in Barcelona and a message for European governments calling for harsher migration policies.
"Those people are not thinking straight," he said, with the iconic Rock of the British enclave of Gibraltar towering across the bay and the lush yachts of Algeciras before his eyes.
"If you come here it’s because you are seeking a different life, a life that is better for yourself. It’s like my story. I don’t come here to look for trouble."
Meanwhile EU leaders meeting in Brussels on Thursday were vowing to move ahead with plans to set up screening stations in some African countries as one way to tamp down numbers of arriving migrants.
But Morocco's director of migration and border surveillance said his country isn't interested in hosting a station for migrants to determine who is eligible for asylum in Europe.
Khalid Zerouali added that Morocco is experiencing new pressures by migrants trying to get to Europe with the growing clampdown on the Mediterranean route between Libya and Italy.
Zerouali said that so far this year some 25,000 migrants have been stopped from crossing into Spain.
Jose Villahoz, president of local NGO Algeciras Acoge, said the proposals were not feasible.
"If the rights of the nationals of the countries are not even respected, it's going to be even worse for those coming from sub-Saharan countries," he said.
"It's deplorable to make those countries in northern African responsible of the migration flows into Europe."
The United Nations refugee agency has recorded this year 17,781 arrivals to Spain via sea and also by land, through the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melila in northern Africa.
Italy has received 16,452 so far in 2018 and Greece 13,120, according to the UNCHR.
The International Organisation for Migration estimates that around 80,000 people will enter Europe by sea this year, based on current trends.
That's around half as many as in 2017.
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