A boat with 22 migrants was intercepted during the early hours of Monday by Faro Maritime Police, near Vale do Lobo beach, in Loulé at about 4:50 am, after the Maritime Police was alerted by a local fisherman. Although they have no documents, the young adults revealed themselves to be Moroccan.
Over the past six months, four small wooden boats, departing from the same city in Morocco - El Jadida – have been intercepted along the Algarve’s coast with young Moroccan citizens on board. Altogether, since December, 48 young men have arrived in Portugal.
The Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF) is investigating the relationship between these similar landings, and suspects an aid network for illegal immigration, which receives money in exchange for travel, a source from the SEF told press (PUBLICO newspaper). He did not specify the value of the transactions in question, but said that the network is suspected to be managed by a Spanish citizen. Nor is he aware of any cases of more boats with immigrants that have not been intercepted.
According to the commander of the Southern Maritime Zone, Fernando Rocha Pacheco, the men said they left “Jadida three days ago” for the “south coast of Spain or Portugal”. The vessel of just over seven meters was extremely overcrowded, he said.
The first vessel to arrive in the Algarve, on 11 December, brought eight young people on board, between 16 and 26 years old. After having applied for asylum, they were admitted to the Portuguese Refugee Council (CPR).
In view of this request, which was accepted, they were “provided documentation to prove being in the period of analysis”, so that, during that period, they were guaranteed “medical care, education, accommodation and means of subsistence”. More than a month later, in late January, another group of 11 Moroccans landed on another beach in the Algarve and initiated an identical request. The men who arrived on 6 June also followed suit.
The SEF had, so far, ruled out the hypothesis that it was an illegal immigration network, but the investigation now, according to an internal source, points to that hypothesis. "There are payments involved, aid for illegal immigration is a profitable business," he commented. In the image of what happens in Spain, Portugal will now have to work with the Moroccan authorities to lock down the networks, said the same source
Regarding the illegal immigrants who arrived on the first two boats, the SEF denied the majority's request for asylum (except for a minor) because it considered them to be “economic immigrants” - five of them are now in “unknown whereabouts”.
Regarding the group that arrived in January, the SEF refused the request for three of them, but did not hear back from the other eight of them "because they are in an unknown location". That is, a majority of the 16 young men who arrived on the first two boats have vanished from Portuguese authorities. Some of the young people who were refused asylum challenged the decision, which, according to the law, must then be analysed by an administrative court. Until that decision, the refugee council maintains its support and deportation cannot be triggered. "There is no deadline for the court to respond," revealed Mónica Farinha, chairman of the CPR board.
Timóteo Macedo, a representative of the Immigrant Solidarity Association, defended that, even if it turns out that it is a network, “people who are victims of the networks have to be protected”.
"The networks must be fought," he said. “If Portugal receives refugees who are on boats held hostage by traffickers, I don't know why it should not accept that these Moroccans stay here. There is no reason why protection is not granted and people are not allowed to stay. ”
The law guarantees asylum to citizens "persecuted or seriously threatened with persecution, as a result of activity carried out in the State of their nationality or of their habitual residence in favour of democracy, social and national liberation, peace between peoples, freedom and human rights”. This right can also be granted to anyone who fears “on grounds” of being persecuted because of “their race, religion, nationality, political opinions or integration in a certain social group” and cannot or does not want to “return to the state of their nationality or usual residence”.