NOUADHIBOU: India’s ambassador to Mauritania sought on Thursday to identify several hundred Asian migrants stranded in the Saharan state after their ship was intercepted trying to reach Spain’s Canary Islands.
Earlier this month the case of the 50-metre Marine 1 trawler triggered a diplomatic spat between Mauritania and Spain over responsibility for the mostly 372 Asians and Africans on board.
Spain, which had tracked the battered ship from the start of its migrant-carrying voyage in Guinea and intercepted the ship after its engines failed, wants them repatriated. The problem is nobody is sure where everyone has come from.
Some 300 of the latest would-be migrants have said they are from Indian Kashmir, prompting India’s ambassador to Mauritania, Parbati Sen Vyas, who is based in Senegal, to get involved.
In a Red Cross tent, she interviewed some of the migrants in an effort to help confirm their identities.
“I am here to assist this process, but it’s a long, complex process,” the ambassador told Reuters by mobile.
None of the migrants had passports, but they said these had been taken away from them by the organisers of the voyage.
“They claim to be Indian nationals ... but of course Kashmiris could be from either the Indian or the Pakistani side of the Punjab,” the ambassador said, adding identities would have to be checked with national database records back in India.
“They might not be giving the correct facts, they were heading for Europe,” she said.
She added that those identified as Indian nationals would be repatriated. “But I must be absolutely sure they are Indian nationals before I can give them travel documents,” she said.
More than 30,000 illegal migrants came ashore last year in the Spanish Canary Islands after making long, risky voyages from the Atlantic coast of West Africa.
On Tuesday, a Spanish plane flew 35 Sub-Saharan Africans who were on board the Marine 1 to Cape Verde for a temporary stay prior to their planned repatriation to Guinea.
A second plane on Wednesday flew a second group, from Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, to the Spanish Canary Islands, where their immigration status would be decided.
Spain, in the front line of European efforts to fight illegal immigration, has launched a diplomatic offensive in West Africa to try to stem the influx and is offering countries in the region increased aid in return for help to halt clandestine migration.