GENEVA (Reuters) - The rising flow of migrants to Spain from North Africa could evolve into a “big emergency” if the pace continues, the U.N.’s migration agency said on Friday.
After large rescues in recent days, including 300 off Spain’s southern coast who had attempted to cross the Mediterranean from Morocco, more than 9,000 migrants have arrived by sea in Spain this year, surpassing the 2016 totals, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said.
In addition, 121 migrant deaths have been recorded on the route, against 128 for all of last year.
“We understand from our experts in the field that Spain now is going through something like what Greece saw in the beginning of 2015 or Italy even earlier,” IOM spokesman Joel Millman told a Geneva news briefing.
The vessels heading to Spain are much smaller and carry fewer migrants than those crossing to Italy from Libya, or previously from Turkey to Greece, but they are now arriving daily, he said.
“Obviously if this grows at the rate it’s growing it could be a big emergency,” Millman said, adding that other aid actors would have to help.
Spain this year has reported a spike in the number of migrants coming by sea or trying to cross the borders in its two North African enclaves, Ceuta and Melilla, and numbers are expected to double when compared to 2016.
“At the moment our estimation is 9 percent of those on the move into Spain are children,” said Sarah Crowe, spokeswoman of the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
So far this year 119,069 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea, with almost 83 percent landing in Italy and the rest divided between Greece, Cyprus and Spain, IOM said.
This compared with 266,423 arrivals across the region at the same time last year, it said.
“Deaths on the Mediterranean this year are 800 below what they were at this time last year,” Millman said. IOM figures show that they currently stand at 2,410 dead or missing.
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Alister Doyle