23,000 Moroccans repatriated from Spain in 2002

04.Jan.03,  first published by Middle East Online: read the original article here.

Spain expelled more than 200 illegal immigrants a day in 2002, an immigration official said Friday.

Last year saw a 64-percent increase in expulsions, with 74,467 illegal immigrants sent home - an average of 204 per day - compared to 45,544 in 2001, Ignacio Gonzalez told reporters in Madrid.

Moroccans comprised the largest group trying to enter Spain illegally, with 23,000 repatriated in 2002.

But their numbers were down from 2001 when nearly 26,000 Moroccans were sent back across the Mediterranean.

The next largest group of illegal immigrants came from Romania - with 18,000 expulsions, up from a mere 1,600 a year before - and Ecuador.

Nearly 400 human smugglers, who charge steep fees to offer oft-treacherous transport for would-be immigrants, were also arrested last year, Gonzalez said.

The death toll for immigrants who drowned off Spain's coast reached 35 in 2002, he added.

On Thursday, another seven died after their boat, which had sailed from North Africa, sank off Tarifa, a Spanish town facing Morocco across the Straits of Gibraltar.

Thirty-five others were rescued but eight managed to escape when they were brought to land, Spanish officials said.

However, the end-of-year statistics showed that most illegal immigrants were picked up in the Canary Islands, off Spain's Atlantic coast, and not in the Straits of Gibraltar.

Around 1.3 million foreigners reside legally in Spain, according to government statistics.