Satellite system to track illegal migrants

Posted in Europe , Africa | 08-Jan-09 | Author: Giles Tremlett| Source: Guardian (UK)

Fishermen gather in St. Louis, Senegal, where many boats carrying migrants set sail for the Canary Islands.

A satellite system linking two continents became the latest weapon in Europe's armoury against illegal immigration yesterday, as police forces in countries as far apart as Spain, Senegal and Mauritania were hooked up to a single high-speed communications and data network.

The EU-funded Sea Horse system helps relocate the effort to prevent illegal immigration from the coast of Africa, with stations opened in port cities such as Dakar in Senegal, Praia in Cape Verde and Nouadhibou in Mauritania.

The system should allow police to track immigrant vessels, as they are spotted travelling up the Atlantic coast of Africa and then veering west in search of the Canary Islands or heading north for the southern shores of Spain or Portugal.

Police can plot charts and draw up shared maps of where vessels carrying would-be illegal immigrants are going and what routes they follow.

"It is the most sophisticated network of its kind in Europe," said Miguel Márquez of the company Indra, which has put Sea Horse together. "It uses technology that already existed but had never been applied to illegal immigration before."

The information is being centralised in the Canary Island capital of Las Palmas, where frontier police forces have formed a co-ordination centre. The system will receive information from individual police forces and maritime patrols.

Spanish aircraft also patrol the waters between Africa and the Canary Islands, which has seen more than 100,000 immigrants land in 2,800 boats since the immigration route from west Africa opened 14 years ago. Although 151 immigrants arrived in the first week of this year, the co-operation of west African countries has allowed Spain to reduce numbers.