The criminal networks that traffic people are using their imagination to get around border controls and bring thousands of people into Spain illegally

Immigration mafias reinvent themselves and launch dozens of jet skis into the sea

AFP/ARIS MESSINIS - Rescuing migrants

Taking advantage of the good sea conditions and optimal visibility, attempts to enter Spain multiply in summer. Immigrants pay the mafias prohibitive amounts to cross the 14 kilometres of the Strait of Gibraltar and reach Spain, and now using new formulas. In many cases, they have changed the dinghies or rubber dinghies for jet skis, which they sometimes use to smuggle camouflaged drugs into Spain.

The Guardia Civil has detected that the mafias offer migrants to cross the Strait of Gibraltar on a jet ski for between 800 and 1,200 euros (although this amount can reach 3,000 euros), or to carry a bundle of hashish and make the journey for free. In other words, if the drugs reach their destination, they do not have to pay any debt to the gangsters, but if the bundle is in danger, they do not hesitate to kick the immigrants and throw them into the sea, as Miguel Ángel Ramos, secretary of Communication and Institutional Relations of the Unified Association of the Civil Guard in Cádiz, explains.  

The mafias' strategy of "wetting the Moors" is proliferating

Around twenty jet skis at a time, piloted by the mafias at 80-100 kilometres per hour, set off in packs at night and with malice aforethought, each one carrying an immigrant on its back. "They refer to them as lifeguards because - in case they are cornered - they push them into the water so that the security forces and bodies concentrate their efforts on saving their lives and not on looking for the drugs," Ramos adds. They throw the bundle and ask for help from Maritime Rescue because, in the event of imminent danger, the priority at sea is to rescue people. This formula, explains agent Miguel Ángel Ramos, is known in the area as "wetting the Moor" and is nothing more than a strategy of misdirection. "It's not the first time we've encountered them six or seven miles from the coast," he laments. 

Mass passes of motorbikes on the so-called Straits motorway

The same formula is always repeated. The immigrants carry only their passports, cash and a phone tied around their necks with a watertight bag. "They act in the evening and at night with dozens of jet skis at full speed and without lights", warns the AUGC delegate in Cádiz. "They never go 3 or 4 motorbikes. They act in a pack, simultaneously and each one goes to a different place on the coast. Neither the Guardia Civil's maritime service boats, nor the customs boats, nor the helicopters can handle 30 motorbikes at a time. And the integrity of the migrant always prevails", Ramos explains. 

The methods change, but the transit does not stop, neither by sea nor by land

According to data published by Frontex, up to July 2022 some 155,000 people have crossed European borders, which is 86% more than in the same period in 2021 and the highest volume in the last 6 years.

In the first seven months of this year, the Western Balkans land route has become the main gateway to Europe with thousands of people attempting irregular crossings every week across the borders of Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Hungary and Romania. This route has multiplied its influx by 205% compared to the same period last year, even though the data of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency do not include Ukrainian refugees who - as soon as they set foot in Europe - are granted Temporary European Protection. By the end of July, the Western Balkans had registered more than 70,700 arrivals (mostly Afghans, Syrians, Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Iraqis).

As for sea routes, according to Frontex, the main one remains the central Mediterranean - the busiest - with almost 42,600 migrants arriving in Italy and Malta from Libya, Tunisia and Algeria between January and July 2022: 44% more than the previous year. Worse still, in the first 10 days of July alone, it is estimated that more than 8,000 people disembarked in these two southern European countries. 

Humanitarian organisations warn: "You cannot be selective with human pain"

The founder of the NGO Proactiva Open Arms, Oscar Camps (now on board the ship Astral), says he does not understand why Frontex distinguishes between those displaced by the war in Ukraine and the rest of the exodus. And he wonders whether there are first and second class migrants. "We must create humanitarian corridors for everyone, for people from Ukraine, from Africa or from the Middle East. And we cannot be selective with human pain," he said.

Oscar Camps is also struck by the fact that, now that there are more and better equipped NGO rescue boats in the Mediterranean, Frontex claims that flows are decreasing in this area and increasing in the Balkans. Could it be that instead of a "call effect" we are talking about forced exoduses, Camps asks. And he adds that "people are fleeing violence in its many faces: armed violence, food violence, gender violence, climate violence, etc". He believes that Frontex's claims are designed to feed the narrative of fear of immigration, rather than seeking safe routes, and he misses the figures for those who have disappeared at sea and those who are left adrift. These data, regrets the founder of the NGO Proactiva Open Arms, "almost never come to light or do so in ridiculous and dubious numbers". 


Iñigo Mijalgos, president of the NGO Salvamento Marítimo Humanitario (SMH), which manages the Spanish ship Aita Mari, also questions the Frontex data, and considers that "one of the factors behind the increase in pressure on the central Mediterranean route is that the confrontation in Tripoli has intensified". 

The president of Salvamento Marítimo Humanitario (SMH) also reminds us that it is not correct to speak of illegal entries, but that we should speak of irregular entries. "The illegality that is committed in many cases is hot refoulement. If there are no organised ways to enter, you have to use irregular ways", warns Íñigo Mijalgos. The NGO SMH denounces the fact that - during the pandemic - many countries abused hot returns and that, to a certain extent, a blind eye has been turned. Automatic returns to Morocco, Libya or Turkey. "We witnessed it for example on the island of Chios in Greece. And what this policy is causing is that many people, as soon as they ask for the island and exhausted by the long journey, flee to the forests and put their lives in danger". They are aware that as soon as they set foot on the mainland, they have every chance of being sent back. A vicious circle in which the human trafficking mafias once again play a fundamental role.