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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 August 2006, 13:01 GMT 14:01 UK
EU promises help with migrants
Migrant boat at Los Cristianos
The Canary Islands are coping with an unprecedented influx
The European Commission says it will do more to help EU member states handle large flows of migrants.

Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini was replying to a new appeal for help from Spain, which is struggling with an influx by sea from West Africa.

The EU launched an operation this month to turn back small boats carrying migrants from Cape Verde, Mauritania and Senegal to the Canary Islands.

But Spain says the operation is not big enough and took too long to get going.

Deputy Prime Minister Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said Spain needed "more boats, more planes, more personnel".

Canaries crisis

Mr Frattini said he would ask member states to show more solidarity with Spain, to increase the amount of money available for border control, and to strengthen the "operational capacity" of the new EU border agency, Frontex.

Migrant sleeps in Los Cristianos

He also said he would set up a high-level group within the Commission to deal with immigration issues, and would back Spain's request for the Canary Islands operation to be extended from the planned nine weeks to the end of the year.

More migrants have arrived on the islands this month than in the whole of 2005. In total, nearly 19,000 migrants have arrived on the islands this year. Estimates of the number that have died en route range from 590 to 3,000.

The operation, co-ordinated by Frontex, involves air and sea patrols along the coast of Cape Verde, Mauritania and Senegal.

So far, only one Portuguese ship has joined the Spanish effort.

An Italian ship broke down en route, and a Finnish aircraft has yet to arrive.

Repatriation

Other countries have provided experts in identification of migrants. A Frontex official said the experts were necessary because migrants tried to avoid repatriation by concealing their nationality.

Chart of migration to the Canaries
A Spanish government official in the Canary Islands estimated that 5,000 had been repatriated so far this year.

The EU is planning a similar operation in the Mediterranean to intercept migrants from North Africa to Italy and Malta.

The Canary Islands crisis is headline news in Spain, even though the African migrants represent only a small proportion of the total flow of immigrants to the country - more than half a million in 2005.

A study published in Spain this week says that without the 3.2m immigrants that have arrived in the country in the last 10 years, the country's per capita output could have fallen, instead of rising by an average of 2.6% per year.

The study by the Catalan state savings bank and the Autonomous University of Barcelona, quoted by the Financial Times newspaper, says per capita output would have fallen in many European countries - including Germany and the UK - if they had not benefited from immigration.

Map showing main migration routes




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