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Reported numbers of illegal immigrants plummets

Sun 3rd Jan 2010

The number of illegal immigrants risking their lives in small and unsafe boats to reach the Canary Islands from northwest Africa has descended to levels last seen over ten years ago, officials said Saturday.

In 2009, a total of 2,041 adults - and 201 children - arrived in the islands or were rescued as they sailed toward them, an Interior Ministry spokeswoman said.

Levels as low as this were last recorded a decade ago, when 2,165 people made landfall on the archipelago, made up of seven main islands - and two tiny ones - 1,380 kilometers (858 miles) off Spain's southwestern tip.

The number of immigrants began to increase rapidly in 2002, when 9,929 arrived, and peaked in 2006 when 31,859 had to be housed, the spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity in keeping with government rules.

More than 96,116 people have sought shelter and a chance of a better, European-style life on the islands since 1994.

The recession, which has caused unemployment in Spain to ascend to nearly 18 percent, along with coastal patrols, have helped slow immigration.

In 2006 the European Union agreed to strengthen Frontex, the Union's external borders agency, after Spain lobbied for years for more funding. In May of that year, it agreed to deploy planes, boats and rapid reaction aid teams from its member states to deal with the flood of African illegal migrants trying to reach the Canary Islands.

It is unknown how many have died trying to make the perilous ocean crossing against prevailing trade winds. However, 45 died in 2008 compared to 32 in 2009.

In February 2009 a ramshackle boat with 32 migrants aboard overturned just 20 meters (22 yards) from the northeast coast of Lanzarote and 25 of its dazed and exhausted passengers, including four children, drowned.

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