Page last updated at 07:01 GMT, Saturday, 20 January 2007

Warning over Canaries migration

Immigrants arriving at Los Cristianos in the Canary Islands
Many west Africans have tried to reach the Canary Islands

An internal Home Office report has warned of a potential threat to UK border controls from illegal immigrants arriving in the Canary Islands.

Last year at least 31,000 African migrants arrived in the Canaries, according to Spanish officials.

Most were thought to be going to Spain, but more such migrants are starting to come from English-speaking countries, a document obtained by the BBC shows.

These migrants are more likely to head for the UK, the Home Office paper said.

The Home Office briefing paper, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, said traffickers from further afield were also exploring the route.

These could bring other organised immigration crime groups, it added.

Such developments could pose a "potential threat" in the medium to long-term, the document said.

'Principal conduits'

Tighter immigration controls in the Mediterranean have seen the Spanish Canaries - off the north-west African coast - become more attractive for Africans escaping poverty and conflict.

Their next port of call is usually Spain itself, where there is demand for labour in the construction and service industries, the briefing paper said.

It said the Canaries had become one of the "principal conduits" for African migration during 2006.

The route now rivals and perhaps exceeds the route from Libya to Italy for numbers of migrants. This is a common route for migrants on their way to the UK, the paper said.

"The Libya-Italy route is clearly having an ongoing impact with significant numbers of irregular migrants, particularly from East Africa, using this route as a stepping stone to the UK."

On migrants to the Canaries increasingly coming from English-speaking countries, the paper said: "The nationality profile of the irregular migrants arriving in the Canary Islands is starting to change.

"As the routes have been displaced southwards they are becoming much more accessible geographically to the Anglophone countries in the region - Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Liberia - whose populations do have much closer links to the UK and to varying degrees are traditional source countries for irregular migration to the UK."

The report said Sri Lankan, Pakistani and Chinese immigrants were also starting to use the islands as a transit point.



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