People hide among broken glass and toxic ash in attempt to reach Europe

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Spanish police have released photographs and video footage of people trying to reach Europe from north Africa by hiding in containers of broken bottles and in sealed bags of toxic ash.

Last Friday, officers from Spain’s Guardia Civil rescued 41 people who were trying to enter Europe via the port in the Spanish enclave of Melilla in north Africa. The migrants were found in trucks, containers and articulated lorries waiting to be loaded on to ships bound for the mainland.

An initial search found 35 people trying to make the crossing, while a second, more detailed search, revealed a further five concealed in extraordinarily dangerous places.

“Four of them had hidden themselves in a trough full of broken glass bottles bound for recycling plants, despite the danger of a seven-hour voyage surrounded by sharp and jagged edges,” the force said in a statement.

A fifth person was found inside a sealed plastic bag containing fly ash, which is produced by coal-fired power stations and can cause serious lung conditions.

“The Guardia Civil officer who was attempting the rescue saw a motionless human leg, which affected him deeply and led him to call for urgent help from an ambulance because he thought the person was dead,” the statement said.

“Fortunately, the person came to once he had been dug out and his life was saved.”

Last year, the Guardia Civil found 11,669 people hoping to use Melilla’s port as a way into mainland Europe. So far this year they have found 1,781.

According to police, migrants use a variety of different methods to gain access to the inner area of the port. Some swim in, some climb on top of vehicles or cling to their undersides when they slow down on the road that leads to the docks, and others hide in containers.

Last year, more than 40,300 people arrived in Spain by sea, with more than 25,000 of them arriving in the Canary Islands via the highly dangerous Atlantic route and collapsing the archipelago’s reception infrastructure.

Conflicts, land border closures forced by the Covid pandemic and increased controls in some north African countries have led smuggling gangs to reactivate the long and perilous Atlantic crossing, ferrying thousands of men, women and children between the two continents.

At least 593 people died en route to the Canaries in 2020, compared with 210 in 2019 and 45 in 2018.

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