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Last Updated: Friday, 9 March 2007, 15:11 GMT
Mauritania returns Asian migrants
The Marine 1 carrying migrants
The broken ship eventually docked in Mauritania (Photo: IOM)
The repatriation has begun of hundreds of mainly Asian migrants who were stranded at sea off Mauritania.

Their ship broke down in international waters before reaching its intended destination, Spain's Canary Islands.

They were allowed to land in Mauritania after Spain agreed to take them into custody and provide medical care.

Aid workers say the group of nearly 400 migrants have been locked in a port warehouse since they docked last month in case they escape.

Mauritania is one of the main launching points for migrants trying to reach Europe from Africa, despite agreements with Spain to stop the flow.

Warehouse detention

The BBC's Richard Hamilton in Mauritania says Indian and Pakistani authorities have already made arrangements for more than 100 people, most of whom say they come from Kashmir, to return home.


Our correspondent says the reason it has taken so long to organise their repatriation is that they were not carrying any identification documents.

They were allowed to land in Mauritania after Spain agreed to take them into custody and provide medical care.

For the past month, the group of nearly 400 migrants have been held in a detention centre - a warehouse in the port of Nouadhibou where the ship the Marine 1 docked.

According to Spanish Red Cross spokesman Hugo Fiz, they have not been allowed to leave the warehouse or take exercise in the courtyard in case they escape and try to seek asylum.

Mr Fiz told the BBC that as a result some members of the group were suffering from scabies, respiratory infections, muscle pains and abscesses.

Our correspondent was not allowed access to the warehouse by the Mauritanian authorities.

'Personal bet'

A few members of the group - thought to be of African origin - have been sent to Spain where their asylum applications are being considered, Mr Fiz said.

About 30,000 Africans were caught trying to reach the Canary Islands last year.

EU patrols are now trying to stem the flow of immigrants, but it has not stopped people from making attempts, our reporter says.

They stowaway on board small wooden fishing boats completely unsuited to the voyage to the Canaries.

"It is a personal bet: they don't have anything to lose, only their lives," said Mr Fiz, describing the desperation of many African migrants.

"They cannot lose anything else because they don't have anything else."

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