"[T]he others begin to protest and claim that the passenger is going to die... the plane will make an emergency landing in Spain to protect the reputation of the company..." — Description of a plot to enter Spain illegally. Pictured: Two illegal migrants, who were part of a group that forced an airliner down, arrive at the courthouse in Palma de Mallorca, Spain on November 8, 2021. (Photo by Jaime Reina/AFP via Getty Images)
Prosecutors in Spain have charged a dozen North African migrants with sedition for illegally entering the country by forcing a commercial airliner to land on Spanish territory.
The plot, months in the making and unmatched in audacity, has demonstrated that commandeering airliners is a cheaper and safer way to reach Europe than paying people-smugglers thousands of euros for perilous sea crossings.
Spanish authorities, notorious for closing a blind eye to illegal immigration from North Africa, fear that the plot has set a precedent that will be repeated, not only in Spain but at other airports in Europe.
On the evening of November 5, a Moroccan migrant on an Air Arabia Maroc flight between Morocco and Turkey pretended to be suffering from a diabetic coma. The supposed medical emergency forced the pilot to land the plane in Palma, a city on the Spanish island of Mallorca, located in the western Mediterranean Sea.
Upon landing, an airplane door was opened to allow a medical team to transfer the allegedly sick traveler to a local hospital. At that moment, more than two dozen migrants rushed to the door, exited the aircraft, fled across the runways, and jumped the airport's perimeter fence. A video of the incident, initially censored by Spanish media, was made public by Vox, a conservative party opposed to mass migration.
After hours of searching, twelve of the migrants were eventually found and detained. At least 13 others, thought to be Moroccans and Palestinians, remain at large. They are believed to have boarded ferries for the seven-hour voyage from Mallorca to Barcelona on the Spanish mainland.
Once in Spain, illegal immigrants are protected by European Union human rights laws and are unlikely ever to be deported. They are also able to travel unhindered from Spain to other EU countries including France, Belgium and the Netherlands, all of which have large Moroccan communities. At this point, the fugitives could be anywhere in Europe and are not likely to be found.
Police revealed that in July 2021 the private Facebook group, which has more than 15,000 mostly Moroccan followers, published a post that described a plot similar to that at the Palma airport. According to the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, the message, reportedly written in a Moroccan dialect, stated:
"Guys, listen, most of you want to emigrate. Follow this plan: we need 40 volunteers. All the Brooklyn guys who book a flight to Turkey will fly over Spain. One of you will activate the GPS and when the plane approaches Spain you will begin to scream and feign an illness. The stewardess will come and ask for patience until the plane arrives in Turkey. At this moment the others begin to protest and claim that the passenger is going to die.
"If everyone shows sympathy for the sick passenger, the plane will make an emergency landing in Spain to protect the reputation of the company and to free itself of responsibility. After the forced landing you will be taken to a terminal that is not the arrivals terminal. There will be a door from where the 'patient' needs to exit. Then the rest of you will rush that exit together. The private security agent will not be able to stop you. There are no police in that place.
"In the next few days, we will organize it. Interested parties sign up."
Air Arabia is a low-cost airline and the migrants paid around 200 euros for the flight from Morocco to Turkey. This amount is miniscule in comparison to the 2,500 euros that migrants typically pay people smugglers to cross the Mediterranean Sea by boat from North Africa.
Spanish prosecutors believe that the migrants had been planning the "air boat" (patera aérea) scheme for several months and took advantage of the fact that Moroccan nationals do not need a visa to visit Turkey.
Prosecutors said that the man who faked the illness was a 32-year-old Moroccan who in 2020 was arrested in Marbella, a city in southern Spain, for physical assault and resisting arrest. He reportedly was not deported from Spain at the time. It remains unclear why he left Spain and tried to return. At the hospital in Palma the man "did not show any symptoms" and experienced a "miraculous recovery," according to police.
In a move apparently aimed at deterrence, Spanish prosecutors charged each of the 12 detainees with two separate crimes: sedition and public disorder. Under Spanish law, sedition includes crimes committed in airspace. The charges, which entail lengthy prison sentences, are intended to ensure that the migrants cannot be released on lesser immigration offenses. The 12, who are being held without bail, have refused to cooperate with police and reportedly deny having committed a crime.
Runaway Migration, Spiraling Crime
The incident in Palma de Mallorca has refocused attention on the problem of runaway mass migration to Spain and the concomitant increase in crime and insecurity in Spanish towns and cities.
Spain, along with Greece and Italy, is one of the main gateways for illegal immigration into Europe from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Official statistics show that migration flows are returning to the levels they were at before the Covid-19 pandemic suppressed the number of arrivals in 2020.
At least 35,000 migrants illegally entered Spain during the first ten months of 2021, according to data compiled by the Spanish Interior Ministry. Most of the migrants — 32,713 in 1,905 boats and dinghies — arrived by sea to the Spanish mainland, as well as to the Balearic and Canary Islands and Spain's North African exclaves, Ceuta and Melilla.
The actual number of arrivals certainly is far higher because many migrants who arrive on Spanish beaches go undetected and are not counted in official statistics. Security officials estimate that between 30% and 40% of migrant boats arriving in Spain are not intercepted by border patrols.
The government's 2021 data also omits, apparently for political reasons, the estimated 10,000 migrants who illegally entered Ceuta between May 17 and 18, when migrants stormed the maritime borders in a coordinated assault. It remains unclear how many of those migrants were returned to Morocco and how many remain in Spain. In any event, the number of asylum applications in Ceuta increased by 700% during the first nine months of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020, according to government data provided to the Spanish parliament.
Meanwhile, the number of illegal immigrants in Spain is now estimated to be well over 800,000, according to the nationwide radio broadcaster COPE.
Mass migration has contributed to an increase in crime and delinquency in Spain. On November 6, the Spanish blogger Elentir analyzed the latest crime figures released by the Spanish Interior Ministry. He found that foreigners comprise roughly 30% of the Spanish prison population, although they make up only 11.5% of the Spanish population. He found that Moroccans comprise 26% of Spain's foreign prison population.
Elentir also noted that in Catalonia, which for ideological reasons has deliberately promoted immigration from the Muslim world, foreigners comprise nearly 50% of the Catalan prison population while they make up 16% of the Catalan population. He called on the Spanish government to establish more demanding requirements when admitting non-EU immigrants:
"Obviously, what can be done with this data is to ignore it and let the problem fester, which is what has been done so far. The last straw is that in Spain they insult you by calling you 'xenophobic' and 'racist' for the mere fact of pointing out a problem revealed by the official statistics. What they are trying to censor is not a political position, but reality."
As in other parts of Europe, migrant crime in Spain is spiraling beyond the capacity of law enforcement to contain the violence. Migrant crimes are rarely reported by national news outlets, but local newspapers show that migrant criminality is a nationwide problem. Many migrants have criminal records but are repeatedly released back onto the streets by lenient judges. Migrant criminals are rarely deported; many are unable or unwilling to integrate into Spanish society, so the cycle of crime continues apace. Following are a few examples of crimes committed in recent weeks:
- November 10, 2021. In Madrid, a 19-year-old Moroccan youth with a long criminal history set fire to three homeless people who were sleeping in a city park. The culprit has been arrested eight times since turning 18; he was arrested five times for robbery in October alone.
- November 5, 2021. In Cartagena, a 54-year-old Yemeni man was arrested for kidnapping his two nieces for eight years.
- November 4, 2021. In Lleida, a 45-year-old Algerian man was arrested for raping a woman in the city center. After his arrest, he went on a rampage and caused mass destruction inside the police station.
- November 2, 2021. In Alcoy, two Moroccans, both with prior police records, were arrested for robbing at knifepoint residents of a student dormitory.
- October 31, 2021. In Mallorca, a 24-year-old Moroccan man with a long criminal history of sexual offenses raped and robbed a woman at knifepoint.
- October 26, 2021. In Lanzarote, a 19-year-old Moroccan with a long criminal history was arrested for robbing three people at knifepoint and for masturbating in front of his victims, including a 74-year-old woman.
- October 25, 2021. In Gran Canaria, three Moroccan youths, all with prior records, attacked police who tried to break up a street fight.
- October 24, 2021. In Vitoria, four North African males assaulted a 30-year-old woman. She offered them her wallet and cellphone, but their stated objective was to disfigure her. "We just want to bust your pretty face," the assailants said while they beat her to a pulp. Vitoria Mayor Gorka Urtaran warned against xenophobia: "We must not generalize."
- October 23, 2021. In Málaga, a Moroccan jihadist was arrested in a counter-terrorism operation.
- October 20, 2021. In Valencia, a 31-year-old Moroccan man with a long criminal history was arrested after attempting to cut a man's throat with pruning shears.
- October 19, 2021. In Madrid, a Moroccan man seriously injured a 64-year-old man by punching him in the head. The victim was placed on life support.
- October 19, 2021. In Pontevedra, two Moroccans were arrested for sexually assaulting two female minors.
- October 19, 2021. In Zaragoza, a 27-year-old Moroccan with a criminal history injured two police officers who were trying to arrest him. The man, who remains at large, attacked the officers by throwing them down two flights of stairs and then severely biting them.
- October 17, 2021. In Almería, an Algerian migrant wanted for lynching and then murdering a man in Algeria, was arrested while disembarking from a boat in the port area. The migrant, who was carrying a 40 cm (15-inch) machete at the time of his arrest, just recently arrived in Spain on a dinghy.
- October 17, 2021. In Zaragoza, a Moroccan youth was arrested after attacking an off-duty police officer who asked him to put on his mask while on a city bus.
- October 14, 2021. In Madrid and Barcelona, five jihadists of Algerian origin were arrested in a counter-terrorism operation. They had recently arrived in Spain on dinghies.
- October 13, 2021. In Melilla, 12 migrants of sub-Saharan origin attacked a police officer in the face with an iron hook as they tried to scale the six-meter-high border fence. Of the 12, seven succeeded in reaching Spanish territory. More than 60 officers have been injured by migrants during 2021.
- October 3, 2021. In Alicante, several Moroccan migrants were arrested after numerous people were stabbed during street fights. Gangs of Moroccan migrants in the locality have been fighting each other for months, and local officials appear unable or unwilling to stop the violence.
- October 3, 2021. In Granada, a Moroccan migrant was arrested for armed robbery. Police revealed that since arriving in Spain on a dinghy in February 2020, he has been arrested at least nine times for armed robbery and for assaulting police officers.
- October 1, 2021. In Sabadell, two North African males brutalized a taxi driver after he asked them to pay for their trip. They pepper sprayed him in the face, punched him in the face and beat him until he fell to the ground. The attackers then stole both of his cellphones. The driver, who has been working in the sector for nearly 20 years, was taken to the hospital with two broken ribs and a broken nose. "I have the feeling that there is more and more violence," he said. "The aggressors increasingly believe themselves to be immune."
- September 28, 2021. In Madrid, two North African males attacked a railway station employee after he asked them to wear a mask. The man was hospitalized for knife wounds to his face and neck.
- September 21, 2021. In Ibiza, two Senegalese migrants were arrested for drugging a young woman and sexually assaulting her.
- September 21, 2021. In Tarragona, three North African males raped a Spanish woman for wearing a T-shirt with a logo of Vox, a party opposed to mass migration. One of her attackers said: "You have to take off that shirt. If you don't take it off, I'll take it off myself." After sexually assaulting her, an attacker warned: "Tomorrow, don't wear this shirt again."
Many of the migrants arriving in Spain are unaccompanied minors, colloquially known as menas (menores extranjeros no acompañados). Menas, who are often housed for free in four star hotels, sometimes for months at a time, costing Spanish taxpayers tens of millions of euros each year.
Violent altercations involving menas are increasingly commonplace. In Madrid, for instance, the SUP police union estimates that menas comprise three out of four of the minors arrested in the capital. Following are a few examples of crimes committed by menas in recent weeks:
- November 5, 2021. In Fuerteventura, six Moroccan menas locked up two caregivers at a mena reception center after the caregivers complained about them smoking cannabis in the facility and not wanting to share rooms with sub-Saharan Africans.
- October 18, 2021. In Palma de Mallorca, police dismantled an Algerian gang dedicated to bringing menas to Mallorca to commit robberies. The group consisted of 16 people who are charged with 150 crimes. Investigators said these figures are "only the tip of the iceberg." The 16 had previously been arrested a cumulative total of 133 times and were always released.
- October 13, 2021. In Zaragoza, a large group of menas seriously injured two people during a robbery attempt. One of the victims was hit on the head with a bottle. Police later discovered that five of the menas have long criminal records, including for drug dealing and violent robbery. The Prosecutor's Office requested that the menas be jailed, but a judge determined that it was not justified and ordered them to be released.
- October 5, 2021. In Madrid, violent gangs of North African menas, often armed with machetes, are terrorizing local residents. The menas specialize in stealing cellphones which they then sell to an underground network of buyers. They have stabbed at least a dozen people who refused to hand over their phones.
- October 1, 2021. In Madrid, two North African menas ambushed an elderly couple in their apartment building in order to rob them. Police said that one of the menas recently had run away from the reception center where he was being housed.
- September 30, 2021. In Bilbao, a 16-year-old North African mena stabbed to death a 20-year-old man at a local railway station.
- August 2, 2021. In Madrid, a 17-year-old Moroccan mena threatened to murder his teachers after they withheld a weekly social security payment due to his bad behavior. When security guards arrived, he attacked them with rocks.
- February 2021. In Gran Canaria, a massive brawl broke out between 300 menas of different nationalities; they destroyed the hotel in which they were being housed.
The Spanish government, which consists of a coalition between hard-left socialists and communists, recently announced a plan to give residency permits to 15,000 menas illegally in Spain. The move gives them a pathway to obtain Spanish nationality. Critics say the plan will only encourage more migration of menas to Spain.
Government ombudsman Francisco Fernández Marugán recently called on Spanish lawmakers to be more welcoming to migrants:
"Spain, like most developed countries, has an aging population and therefore requires labor. Immigrants and refugees often provide it to them. Despite the obvious benefits, immigrants, particularly Africans, continue to be the target of a particular xenophobia."
The conservative party Vox accused the government of implementing "population replacement." Vox has called for toughening the conditions to obtain Spanish nationality. The party argues that "nationality implies the identification of the national with a national tradition and values and that the relationship of a citizen with his nation implies rights, but also obligations."
To acquire Spanish citizenship by residency, Vox is calling for the current period of 10 years of legal and continuous residence to be extended to 15 years. In addition, foreigners seeking Spanish citizenship would have to: prove good civic conduct; no criminal record either in Spain or in their native country; show sufficient integration into Spanish society; possess an official language certificate; and pass an exam on the Spanish constitution, history and culture.
Vox President Santiago Abascal explained:
"We say that the requirements to obtain nationality must be toughened because Spanish nationality is a treasure that we are not willing to give away to those who do not respect it and do not deserve it."