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Last Updated: Monday, 7 February, 2005, 04:34 GMT
Migrants found off Canary Islands
Illegal immigrants in the Canary Islands. Archive picture
Every year, thousands of Africans try to reach the Canary Islands
Police in the Canary Islands have intercepted one of the largest groups of would-be immigrants ever to reach Spanish waters from Africa by boat.

The police said 227 people were found aboard a decrepit fishing vessel drifting off the island of Tenerife in the Atlantic Ocean.

Some of the migrants said they had been at sea for more than a month - and 11 had to be taken to hospital.

Police are searching for two suspected traffickers who fled the boat.

On Monday, a partial amnesty for an estimated 800,000 illegal immigrants working in Spain comes into force.

Treacherous journeys

The latest would-be immigrants - believed to be from West and sub-Saharan Africa - were found on Saturday evening, police said.

Many of them were tired and hungry.

They are now being housed in reception centres, and most are likely to be repatriated once their identities are established.

Thousands of Africans seeking to escape poverty try to reach the Canary Islands or the Spanish mainland across the Strait of Gibraltar from Morocco every year.

A Moroccan immigrant workers' association says about 4,000 would-be illegal immigrants have drowned making such journeys in the last five years.

A Tenerife civil guard said it was very hard to see people continually arriving in these tragic circumstances, but added that hunger did not respect borders.


For illegal immigrants working in Spain, the government amnesty takes effect on Monday.

The move is an attempt by Spain's Socialist government to manage migration.

To be given legal status, migrants must produce an identity document to prove they were in the country before last August, have a job contract for at least the next six months and have no criminal record.

More than 150 offices around Spain will be open for the next three months to consider applications for residence and work permits from illegal migrants.

However, some experts say the amnesty would make Spain an even more attractive destination for migrants.

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