Spain seizes 550 African migrants off coast

15.Oct.03,  first published by MSNBC news: read the original article here.

Spanish authorities detained more than 550 Africans trying to reach the country in 12 flimsy boats on Wednesday and urged Morocco to tighten border controls to block illegal migrants.

Several pregnant women and babies were among those held, the latest of thousands of migrants who set out every year to cross the 20-km (12 mile) Strait of Gibraltar separating Spain from Africa. Others aim for Spain's Canary Islands.

''There were 472 immigrants intercepted in the area of the Strait (of Gibraltar) and 87 in the Canary Islands,'' an Interior Ministry spokesman said.

      ''We reiterate the call to Moroccan authorities over the need to strengthen controls while at the same time comply with repatriation agreements...because this is the only way to efficiently battle illegal immigration,'' Ignacio Gonzalez, the Spanish government delegate for immigration, told reporters.

A Moroccan immigrants' group said last year some 4,000 people had died or disappeared while attempting to cross to Spain in recent years.

Most migrants arriving in Spain by sea undertake the journey between May and November when the weather is best, a police source said.

Arrested immigrants are usually held in a detention centre until their legal status is determined but Moroccans can be deported immediately under a bilateral agreement.

Spain last year repatriated 74,467 immigrants -- 58 percent more than in 2001 -- of whom 23,381 were Moroccans, according to figures from the immigration department.