Spanish police find migrants in perilous conditions

People trying to get to Europe from Africa found in container full of sharp, broken glass, as well as plastic bag with ash

Alyssa McMurtry   | 22.02.2021
Spanish police find migrants in perilous conditions File Photo

OVIEDO, Spain 

Spanish police said Monday that they had discovered migrants in Spain’s African port of Melilla hiding in extremely dangerous conditions in a bid to reach mainland Europe.

The police first found 35 people hidden amid trucks, semis, and trash containers just before they were about to embark on a seven-hour journey to mainland Spain on Friday.

During a second sweep, police discovered more people in potentially life-threatening situations.

Four people were found in a container full of sharp, broken glass that was being sent away to recycle.

Another man was found in a sealed plastic bag that was full of fly ash, which can cause serious lung disease when inhaled and is a known carcinogen.

“The police officer who carried out the first rescue saw a motionless human leg, which made him extremely emotional, calling for urgent help from an ambulance thinking that the person had died. Fortunately, after being dug out of the ash, the man regained consciousness and his life was saved,” said a police statement.

Police called it a "rescue," but video footage shows the man covered in ash looking highly agitated when being removed from the bag.

Africa to Europe

So far this year, Spanish police have found 1,781 people in the Port of Melilla hoping to catch a ride from the African continent to Europe. In 2020, the number was 11,669.

There are a variety of ways for people to enter the secure area, say Spanish police, including swimming, hiding in cargo, or sneaking onto moving vehicles and clinging to the undercarriage – an activity known as "risky."

The police statement did not provide more details on the fate of those who were "rescued."

Last year, more than 40,000 refugees and migrants were discovered entering Spain by sea, whereas just over 1,500 entered via Europe’s only land borders with Africa around the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.

Not only are those land borders enclosed with massive fences, but Spain practices express deportations on the vast majority of those who manage to cross those borders illegally.

More than half of all those found arriving irregularly in Spain last year took a dangerous boat journey to the Canary Islands, an Atlantic archipelago off the coast of North Africa.

The UN says 809 people died while trying to reach Spain last year – up 18% from 2019.

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