Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar is dangerous, but the risk is not big enough to stop desperate Europe-bound migrants.
The Spanish coastguard and NGOs have warned migrants and refugees not to attempt to cross the 10-mile strait.
As reported by The Guardian, however, the number of refugees and migrants risking the sea journey between Morocco and Spain has been rising sharply, and last week was an exceptionally busy one for rescuers.
On August 23, Salvamento Marítimom, Spain’s maritime safety and rescue agency, together with the Spanish Red Cross rescued nearly 600 people from at least 15 different vessels off the coast of Tarifa – the largest figure for a single day since August 2014, when about 1,300 people landed on the Spanish coast in a 24-hour period.
Most attempt the crossing using paddle boats, but others use jetskis, inflatable vessels and rickety fishing boats.
According to Frontex, the EU’s border agency, more migrants are dying at sea this year than in 2016. And most who continue to cross know the risks they are taking.
“We prefer to die than to stay there. Death happens once but we prefer to risk our life than stay there,” said Abdou, 29, of the ethnic Amazigh community in the impoverished northern Rif region of Morocco, where hundreds of people have been arrested after recent protests against the state. He was rescued last week along with seven others from an inflatable Zodiac boat they had bought for €4,000 – a cheaper option that avoids the need to pay people-smugglers for passage.
Meanwhile, those seeking asylum in Spain can wait anything from six months to two years to receive a decision, and a growing backlog means the processing time is getting longer.
The Guardian visited one Fundación Cepaim house where seven refugees were sheltered in four rooms in a flat in a large residential block. Residents receive monthly payments of €50 to spend as they wish and €170 for food, until Spanish authorities reach a decision on their asylum application.
Larri, a 22-year-old English-speaking refugee from Ghana, lives in a Cepaim house. He said he first tried to reach Europe via the Libya-Italy route, but nearly died when the boat carrying 35 people capsized an hour after their departure.
“Only 12 people survived, the rest all died before our eyes, among them children and women,” he remembered. “I swam and caught the boat, until the next day fishermen came and saw us. They went back and brought help. We were crying, they went back, people came with a boat. I was in sea for one day until 11am.”
Asked by the Guardian whether it was worth taking the risk, he said: “Here, it’s 100% better than Ghana. I was suffering, sometime beaten up on my way from Niger to Libya. When I see everything now that I’m in Europe, it was 100% worth taking the risk.”