68 illegal immigrants land on Spanish island

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iol pic wld spain immigrants AFP File photo - Illegal immigrants.

Madrid -

A group of 68 illegal immigrants, including three minors, arrived on Sunday at a tiny, uninhabited Spanish island located very close to Morocco, press reports said.

The African migrants swam to the Isla de Tierra, a rocky outcrop located just 30 metres off Morocco's northern Mediterranean coast near Spain's north African enclave of Melilla, Spanish public television TVE reported.

Another 19 migrants, including three minors and three pregnant women, reached the island, which is part of the Alhucemas Islands archipelago, on Wednesday on a boat.

Spanish authorities are negotiating with their Moroccan counterparts what to do with the migrants, according to the online edition of daily newspaper El Mundo.

Some members of the Spanish government hope they will simply swim back to Morocco once they see that they will not be transported to Spain, it added.

It is thought to be the first time that migrants have tried to enter Spain through the archipelago. Madrid fears that moving migrants to mainland Spain or Melilla will encourage even more people to try to enter Spain this way.

“We are before a very delicate situation, in which everyone must act with total responsibility, and when I say everyone I mean Spain, Morocco and the European Union,” Spain's central government delegate in Melilla, Abdelmalik El Barkani, said after the first migrants arrived on the island on Wednesday.

“We are talking about very small territories that are very close to the coast of a third country which can't become a point of access to Melilla or the mainland, at the service of mafias that carry out human trafficking.”

The Spanish military transported to Melilla by helicopter the three minors and pregnant women who arrived on the island on Wednesday, leaving the remaining 13 behind.

Migrants usually try to reach Spain from Morocco by travelling in packed boats to the Canary Islands archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean or to beaches along Spain's southern Mediterranean coast.

Authorities fear many of the thousands of Africans who attempt the perilous journey die each year of thirst, hunger or exposure, although there is no way of knowing the exact numbers. - Sapa-AFP

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