Of the 17 Moroccan migrants who escaped from the military barracks in Tavira on October 1, 16 have now been located and one remains at large, according to Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF). The agency clarified that the individuals who have been apprehended have returned to the same barracks, which are serving as a temporary holding facility while further action is pending.
As of October 13, “The group of migrants is in the custody of SEF, in accordance with the established legal terms. They are awaiting the organization of the respective process of expulsion to their country of origin, after their illegal entry into national territory on September 15, when they disembarked on the coast of the Algarve,” according to SEF.
The migrants were originally being held in the Tavira military barracks to await an administrative decision, and were placed under quarantine after two of them tested positive for COVID-19. SEF has confirmed that the individual who remains missing did not test positive for COVID-19.
Correio da Manhã reported that the individual in question is 21-year-old Ayoub Enjemawi, and authorities believe that as of October 9 he may have already arrived in Spain by crossing the Guadiana River. The newspaper also stated that all 28 migrants in the group intended to cross the border into Spain, and that SEF is still trying to locate Enjemawi with the help of Spanish authorities.
When Atlas asked SEF to confirm the information from Correio da Manhã, the agency stated that it does not comment on ongoing investigations.
This is the sixth group of Moroccan migrants to be detained in the Algarve since December 2019. SEF launched an investigation into the possibility of a new route for illegal immigration from Morocco to Portugal and confirmed the existence of this route in early October, as reported by Diário de Noticias.
According to DN, the SEF investigation revealed that each of the six groups of migrants departed from El Jadida on Morocco’s Atlantic coast and made the journey to the Algarve directly, in just one boat.
Investigators reconstructed the route through analysis of footage from the detained migrants’ cell phones. This reconstruction indicated that it took each group between 40 to 50 hours to traverse around 700 kilometers of open ocean between the two countries.
Several Portuguese officials had previously denied the existence of a new route of illegal immigration from Morocco to Portugal, including Minister for Home Affairs Eduardo Cabrita.
On the same day that the 17 migrants escaped, Cabrita announced that Portugal and Morocco were in the advanced stages of talks to establish an agreement for legal immigration, according to Sábado.
Other governmental figures have protested the practice of keeping newly arrived migrants in temporary holding facilities such as jails and military barracks, according to DN.
Portugal currently has capacity for about 100 individuals across four different facilities officially designated for this purpose. As the number of migrant arrivals has increased over the past year to the point of exceeding these facilities’ capacity, authorities have turned to other options.
DN also stated that the detention of the most recent group of migrants in the Tavira military barracks is the first time that facilities of the Portuguese Armed Forces have been used for this purpose.
As of 2018 — when the last available government figures were released — the officially recorded population of Moroccan immigrants in Portugal was 1,539, making it the 31st largest immigrant community in the country, as reported by the Office of Strategy and Studies (GEE) of the Portuguese Ministry of Economy.