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Last Updated: Friday, 18 August 2006, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
Canaries 'facing migrant crisis'
New arrivals from Africa at a Red Cross tent in Los Cristianos port in the Spanish Canary Island of Tenerife
Migrant centres on the islands are reaching full capacity
Spain's Canary Islands can no longer cope with the soaring number of illegal immigrants arriving from Africa, local leaders say.

Regional government chief Adan Martin called on the Spanish authorities in Madrid to form an emergency cabinet and provide more aid.

He told Spanish radio 16,400 African migrants had arrived in makeshift boats since the beginning of the year.

This number is more than three times higher than for the whole of 2005.

"We're on red alert and can't carry on taking responsibility for accommodation and medical care of immigrants," Mr Martin told Cadena Ser radio station.

"Everything has a limit, and every time it gets nearer. In some areas I think we've already reached it."

Patrols

His appeal follows a recent visit to the islands by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero who praised the way the local administration was handling the problem.

The EU plans to launch maritime patrols around the Canaries and along the West African coast to help limit the flow of migrants.

map

Mr Martin said that even with reinforced patrols, the plan was insufficient "to monitor such a large zone in Africa, where we know there are an enormous number of people who want to come to Europe and Spain via the Canaries".

In response, a European Commission spokesperson said that everything possible was being done to help, but the crisis would not be solved overnight.

Mr Martin has called on Madrid to set up a "crisis cell" made up of the ministries of interior, foreign affairs and defence among others to tackle the problem.

The long and dangerous journey to the Canaries from Mauritania has in recent months become the favoured route to the European Union for migrants from Africa.

Nearly 400 people were intercepted on Wednesday alone, the AFP news agency quoted rescue services as saying. Another 100 people were found in boats off the coast on Thursday.

Earlier this month, sunbathers on a Tenerife beach came to the aid of 88 exhausted African migrants - among 205 who reached the islands on three open boats - making headlines around the world.




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