MADRID – Spain said on Thursday it believed repatriation flights of illegal migrants to Senegal would go ahead shortly, even though the African country said at the last moment it would not accept a planeload of its citizens.
At least one possibly two, planeloads of migra
nts escorted by Spanish police had been scheduled to arrive at Dakar’s international airport early on Thursday but the operation was abruptly called off.
Spanish officials, who are desperate to start repatriating African migrants who have been streaming into the Canaries this year, said they understood it was a touchy subject for the Senegalese government but trusted the delay would be short.
“The Senegalese interior minister had confirmed to us that they would accept repatriations, so, with all due discretion, I suppose that this is just a delay,” said Spain’s Labour and Social Affairs Minister Jesus Caldera.
“Public opinion is very critical of these repatriation processes in these (African) countries,” he told Cadena Ser radio.
Senegal gave no reason for calling off the flight, but it halted a previous repatriation plan in late May, complaining its nationals were being mistreated.
The fate of African migrants, thousands of whom have come ashore in the Canaries this year, has become an emotive political issue in Spain and Senegal. Their governments have tried to keep the repatriation process secret to foil protests.
Spain, in the front line of Europe’s efforts to halt an ever increasing wave of illegal immigration from the world’s poorest continent, has struggled to put in place a repatriation process with Senegal, the origin of many of the migrants.
After legalising the status of hundreds of thousands of foreigners working illegally inside its borders, Spain’s socialist government faces a public backlash against the migrant flood and says its labour market can absorb no more.
Around 24,000 illegal African migrants have arrived in the Canaries in flimsy open boats this year in the hope of entering Europe, six times the number that arrived in the whole of 2005.
Many die from drowning or hunger, thirst or exhaustion during the sea trip from Africa’s west coast.
Senegalese Interior Minister Ousmane Ngom said on Tuesday his country would cooperate with Madrid in the repatriations as long as the “dignity and human rights” of its nationals were respected. — Reuter