Portugal has decided to deport the 22 Moroccan men who were taken into custody on Monday after being intercepted by maritime police while trying to disembark near Vale do Lobo beach in Loulé. It was a local fisherman who spotted the boat and alerted the authorities.
The national border authority SEF confirmed the men, who were heard in Loulé Court this week, face deportation for entering the country illegally.
It is seemingly a matter of time before they are ordered to return to Morocco, reports Correio da Manhã tabloid, adding that none of them requested asylum. For now, they will remain at temporary shelters (located in Faro, Lisbon and Porto) created specifically for these situations.
This is the first time Portugal has taken a firmer stance towards controlling illegal immigration since the first of four boats filled with illegal migrants started arriving at the Algarve’s shores in December.
The change was likely sparked by the fact that most of the men who arrived in Portugal in the first two boats have “disappeared” and are in parts uncertain, putting Portugal “in a very bad light with European partners,” António Nunes, president of OSCOT (the Observatory on Security, Organised Crime and Terrorism) admitted earlier this year, suggesting matters would be handled differently in order to avoid a repeat of the same mistakes.
This latest group of migrants arrived on a seven-metre boat after allegedly spending three days at sea, having departed from Al Jadida.
They told authorities they were aiming to reach the southern coast of Spain or Portugal.
António Pina, president of the Algarve municipalities association (AMAL) and mayor of Olhão, called for a tougher stance from authorities and defended that people who arrive in the country illegally should be treated accordingly.
“These people are not refugees,” he told Lusa news agency. “There is no ongoing war in Morocco as there is in Syria and Libya.
“They try to benefit from the circumstances affecting people who are forced to flee from violence and war, but this is not their case. This is illegal immigration.
“But we send out the message that these incidents can continue to happen,” he said, also suggesting that illegal organisations could be behind these individuals.
Minister dismisses suggestion of “illegal migration network”
Meanwhile, Portugal’s Internal Administration Minister has dismissed the “ridiculous suggestion” that there is an illegal migration network involved.
His statement came after being questioned about the matter during a recent meeting at the parliamentary commission for constitutional matters, rights, liberties and guarantees.
“We are talking about four boats carrying a total of 48 people who have disembarked since December. When compared to the 7,500 illegal migrants that have arrived in Spain since January, I can only say that statement is ridiculous,” said Eduardo Cabrita.
The minister highlighted the differences between refugees and illegal migrants, stressing that Portugal has pending legal migration agreements with Morocco, India and Moldova.
“What we want to do with Morocco is open a mechanism of legal and organised migration,” he said.