Another contingent of migrants has arrived in Spain, continuing the majorinflux making the crossing from Africa to the Canary Islands since Friday.
Authorities on the islands are reported as saying they suspect the illegal immigrants are being helped by smugglers in large boats, who might be towing the small vessels or even carrying them until they are released near the coast.
The Spanish cabinet has held an emergency meeting in response to a request for help from the local administration in the Canaries.
Vice-premier Maria Teresa Fernandez de la Vega said: “Those who enter illegally must realise that sooner or later they will have to leave, and therefore our policy will continue to focus on effective repatriation. Naturally we will respect human rights in the process, as we already do.”
Use of the smuggling route from Mauritania has grown massively since Spanish and Moroccan authorities stepped up surveillance of the Strait of Gibraltar, the shortest way to cross from Africa.
Media reports suggest there are several hundred thousand would-be immigrants in the Mauritanian capital alone waiting to make their bid for a better life.
It is thought around 40 per cent of the rickety boats sink or capsize attempting the 1,000-kilometre journey.