Migrants paying smugglers €5,400 to go back to Africa during coronavirus crisis

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Migrants in Spain are paying human smugglers about €5,400 to clandestinely return home to Morocco during a time when coronavirus restrictions are hampering travel around the world, according to a report from El Pais.

A group of about 100 Moroccans embarked at the end of March on two inflatable boats to return to their country and circumvent travel restrictions in place in both Spain and Morocco.

Each migrant paid about €5,400 euros for the trip to reach a beach in Larache in northwestern Morocco. Going the opposite direction is actually much cheaper, with migrants from Morocco typically being charged between €400 and €1,000 to head to Spain, according to Spanish police sources.

“Smugglers have shown extreme flexibility, adapting to the new situation. Now they are organizing journeys of illegal Moroccan migrants who are fleeing from Spain due to COVID-19,” El País quoted a European Commission’s internal document.

According to the Spanish daily, smugglers who organize trips to Italy are also showing flexibility. According to police sources, they are also now helping migrants to sail in the opposite direction to their home countries in Africa.

Migrants, many of whom lived in Spain and Italy illegally, often used to make money from street sales. Once a state of emergency was declared, they lost their only source of income.

Middle Eastern countries worried about returning migrants with coronavirus

There are also fears in the Middle East that returning migrants may be carriers of the coronavirus.

Concerning the 100 Moroccan migrants who returned home to Spain, they originally wanted to return home on their own. However, they got stuck on the Spanish coast due to bad weather and then needed to contact the smugglers.

When the migrants arrived in Morocco, they had to hide from the local police because they are possible carriers of the coronavirus. Spain has the third-highest number of confirmed cases in the world at over 226,000.

After South Africa and Egypt, Morocco is the third worst-affected African country in terms of the number of confirmed cases, with a total of 4,065. In mid-March, Morocco closed its borders due to coronavirus, including for its citizens.

Algeria has also reported cases of illegal migrants in Spain returning to their homeland.

“It’s surprising and unusual — the boats are not heading for the coast of the Iberian Peninsula, but returning from Spain to Algeria,” wrote Algeria 360°. According to the website, migrants are detained, examined by a doctor and possibly placed in quarantine after returning to the country.

In general, however, migration in the Mediterranean, and therefore in Spain, continues in the usual direction.

From mid-March, when a state of emergency was declared in Spain, and the free movement of persons was restricted, until mid-April, 829 African migrants crossed the Spanish border illegally.

From the beginning of the year to last Sunday, 6,100 migrants arrived in Spain from Africa, which is about a quarter less than in the same period last year.

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