21 Mar, 2024 @ 14:19
2 mins read

Families of missing migrants ‘were asked to pay HUNDREDS of euros for information on their loved ones’: 14 people arrested in Spain for ‘profiteering off grieving relatives’ as NGO ‘categorically denies’ any involvement

migrants in boat

FAMILIES of migrants who disappeared on the perilous journey from Africa to Spain have claimed they were asked to pay hundreds of euros for information by people allegedly linked to an NGO.

According to an investigation by The Guardian, at least three families were approached by people in southern Spain claiming they worked for an NGO – non-governmental organisation – and could help them with the desperate search for their loved ones. 

Each family was allegedly asked to hand over at least €200 in exchange for information about what had happened to their relatives, with one family saying they were promised photos of their relative’s body in a morgue.

None of the families paid the fees, according to the newspaper.

Some 14 people were arrested last week by Spanish police, it has emerged, accused of profiteering off the relatives of those who had tragically drowned whilst trying to reach Spain in small boats.

Rescatados 61 Migrantes Subsaharianos A Bordo De Una Patera En Las Costas De Tenerife
Over 55,000 made the hazardous journey across the seas to Spain last year. Credit: Cordon Press

The detained individuals have been charged with fraud, falsification of public documents and disrespecting the dead, police said.

The police claim the suspects ‘used social media’ to contact the grief-stricken families, ‘offering them false information regarding the whereabouts of their loved ones in exchange for money’.

A statement said: “The network had for years been profiting off the family members in Morocco and Algeria of those who had disappeared and died at sea while trying to reach Spanish coasts in small boats”.

Over 6,600 people died attempting to reach Spain last year, the majority of whom attempted to reach the Canary Islands from Africa, widely regarded as the deadliest migration route in the world.

Spain’s interior ministry reported that a record 55,618 migrants made the desperate journey in 2023 – almost double the number in 2022. 

The lack of centralised data for migrant arrivals has created ‘a terrain that is ripe for exploitation’, according to the investigation, with con men working to defraud desperate families out of hundreds of euros. 

The regions in Spain which take in the highest number of boat migrants
The desperation of families is being exploited. Credit: Cordon Press

The relative of one Algerian man who went missing over a year ago on the hazardous journey claims he was asked for €250 by someone claiming to have access to a police morgue.

He said: “It was really bizarre. How can these men have access to the corpse when this is not the case for those who have relatives that have disappeared?”

A separate family was asked to pay €200 after being informed that their missing loved one was in a Canary Island prison – the family were unable to verify this claim.

The brother of an Algerian man who tried to reach Spain in 2021 was told to hand over €200 in exchange for information about a ‘secret location’ where he was told his brother was being held.

“The problem is that the authorities are not that helpful”, he said. “After three years we haven’t had any news. We just want to know where he is”. 

Some of the individuals accused of exploiting the desperation of families claim they were linked to a charitable NGO, the International Centre for the Identification of Disappeared Migrants (CIPIMD), based in Malaga.

In a statement posted on X, the charity denounced the “absolute disinformation of social media and the press”, denying the “lies that seek to disparage our work and undermine the trust that the families of the victims of migrations have placed in us”. 

“No investigation exists against us”, the statement adds. 

The suspects allegedly include public employees who worked at forensic institutes in Andalucia and allowed the bodies of dead migrants to be photographed.

Police say an investigation was opened after some of the photos were posted on social media.

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Ben Pawlowski

Ben joined the Olive Press in January 2024 after a four-month stint teaching English in Paraguay. He loves the adrenaline rush of a breaking news story and the tireless work required to uncover an eye-opening exclusive. He is currently based in Barcelona from where he covers the city, the wider Catalunya region, and the north of Spain. Send tips to [email protected]

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