Calm seas and good weather are being blamed for a sudden surge in pateras – rafts or boats in which mainly African immigrants attempt to illegally cross the sea and enter Spain. Over 100 people aboard different boats have been rescued in the last 48 hours, mainly off the coast of Almería.
The Guardia Civil have such a strong radar and visual control of the coast now that it’s supposed extremely difficult to cross, which is one of the reasons so many are being caught nowadays. As soon as one is spotted, a helicopter will circle the boat checking on occupants until the coastguard cutters arrive to rescue the inhabitants.
After health checks, all adults are quickly deported back to their country, with the exception of mothers with infants or children, who are permitted to stay unless it can be proven they are being sent home to their families. I was surprised to learn that almost no violent incidents are ever recorded on these rescues, despite the fact that the immigrants know they will be deported. Usually, they head right back to the coast for another try. The standard fee usually includes up to three attempts.
A lot of these pateras are horrific craft – inflatable dinghies, old lifeboats, small fishing crafts, always heavily overloaded with people who have usually paid their life savings to human traffickers for an uncertain future in Spain. Here’s one (courtesy of El País) recently found off our coasts:
And, of course, should these boats engines break down then they are left to float about on the sea until a passing ship spots them. Sometimes, under the baking heat of the sun, the ship doesn’t find them in time.
Last year I started a casual counter of patera mentions in the press to see how many of these were actually coming (such statistics are not, I was surprised to find, easily available). I lost count after several thousand in a month.