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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 October 2004, 16:18 GMT 17:18 UK
Migrants flock to Canaries
By Martha Dixon
BBC News, Fuerteventura, Spain

The Canary Islands are Europe's winter sun playground, attracting up to 10 million tourists every year.

But now the continent's southernmost border is no longer just a tourist destination - it is being used as a staging post for illegal immigrants who want to enter Europe.

Guardia Civil picks up immigrants
Authorities say resources are stretched dealing with immigration
On a Sunday night Red Cross volunteer Humberto Rodriguez is on an emergency call-out.

Fuerteventura is the closest of the Canary Islands to Africa. Humberto has been told of a boatload of immigrants picked up by the coastguard. This is the second time he has been called out in one night.

"We've been told to wait here for around 40 people coming here by small boat," says Humberto.

Then they come out of the night - 24 Africans, all from Sub-Saharan Africa, and 15 people from Kashmir. The coastguard had plucked them out of a tiny boat. One of the passengers appears to be very ill after the 100km (60-mile) Atlantic journey from Africa.

Under pressure

Thousands are coming every year to the Canaries.

We can't cope with it - it just doesn't stop
Humberto Rodriguez,
Red Cross volunteer

Fuerteventura alone saw 7,000 people come like this last year - and the numbers are growing.

Local authorities say they need help with the massive influx of illegal arrivals.

"We are the biggest port of entry for those coming on small boats illegally into Europe," says Natividad Cano Perez, in charge of immigration on Fuerteventura.

"But we get no help and no recognition from the European Union that this is the case. It means all our resources are diverted to dealing with the immigrants - we need more money and recognition from Spain and Europe."

The Red Cross looks after mothers and babies who have come on boats - and any others who are ill.

In one of these facilities, we met Gladys from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Her trip to Europe was through Morocco, where she was told the Canaries was the easiest route in.

She paid 700 euros ($896, 486) for passage in a tiny boat to Fuerteventura. She was was eight and a half months pregnant at the time.

"There were 35 of us in the boat and it was horrible," said Gladys. "I had never heard of Fuerteventura before. We paid money not to come to Fuerteventura, but to come to Europe.

"We have come to Spain and after Spain we will find our way to London. We don't have money to take the plane and they don't want to give us a visa.

Red Cross worker with baby
Migrants are often in distress when they arrive
"If I asked today in my country 'Give me a visa to come to England' they would not allow me to get a visa."

Gladys managed to make it here before she gave birth. She now wants to go to London.

After speaking to Gladys, we get another call. Another boatload of illegal immigrants is on the way, escorted by a helicopter into Fuerteventura's main port.

Tighter security

Eighty-one people have been picked up this time - all from Sub-Saharan Africa. Tied onto the back of the coastguard boat are the two battered dinghies used for the crossing.

Humberto is here again to give the new arrivals clothing and food.

"They come every day of every week. We can't cope with it. It just doesn't stop," he says.

The coastguard say they never turn people away in these dangerous waters. New arrivals know that if authorities fail to organise repatriation after 40 days they will be set free.

With security only getting tighter around the rest of Europe's shores the Canaries have become a very attractive destination.

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