Sixteen Sahrawis who arrived by boat to the Canary Island of Fuerteventura on Wednesday will request political asylum on Friday. All of them are thought to have participated in a mass protest against Moroccan control over Western Sahara last October, an event that was forcibly dismantled by Moroccan police.
Since then, they and many other Sahrawis have remained in hiding, several sources say, awaiting a chance to flee by sea.
The boat took around 17 hours to reach Fuerteventura, where several of its passengers tried to escape. Spanish police arrested 26 of a total of around 35, according to eyewitnesses. Sixteen of the detainees are expected to request political asylum and will in all likelihood be interviewed on Monday or Tuesday of next week as part of the asylum process.
Legal experts said that it is "very likely" that their request will be granted, given the current situation in Western Sahara and the recent events in its capital Laayoûne, where the Sahrawi protest was violently put down, according to witnesses. At the time, Morocco imposed a media blackout on Spanish reporters in an effort to prevent news from reaching the former metropolis of this North African region.
Sahrawi sources in the disputed territory said that Morocco has been "facilitating" the departure of several boats filled with individuals considered to be "uncomfortable" for Rabat.
A spokesman for the Popular Party in the Canary Islands said that the situation requires "decided and efficient action by the Spanish government to provide serious solutions to the problem of Western Sahara once and for all."