A satellite system linking two continents is the latest weapon in Europe’s armoury against illegal immigration, 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 last week.
The EU-funded Sea Horse system helps 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,” said Miguel Márquez of the company Indra, which created Sea Horse.
“It is the most sophisticated network of its kind in Europe. It uses technology that already existed but had never been applied to illegal immigration before.”
The Canary Island capital of Las Palmas will act as an information hub, where frontier police forces have formed a coordination centre to 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.
Over 150 immigrants arrived in the first week of this year.
The move is part of the EU’s Schengen Pact, a European border-free zone that covers 24 nations, but does not yet apply to UK law enforcement agencies.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said: “The UK government opted not to join Schengen in order to maintain greater control over its borders.”
Italy is vowing to repatriate more than 450 illegal immigrants who recently arrived by boat on the tiny island of Lampedusa.