Dozens of ships carrying passengers and immigrants cross the Strait of Gibraltar through the Green Island every year. 

By Al-Amin Andalusi, IOL Correspondent

MADRID, June 19, 2005 ( – It is summer time and dozens of immigrants of North African origin in Spain are gearing up for a lucrative, though short-lived, business in the southern Green Island, a transit for millions of vacationers crossing from Europe to their home countries.

Tranquil and gloomy in wintertime, the island is hustling and bustling with burgeoning immigrant businesses in the summer, turning into a big marketplace where one can find everything from fast-food restaurants to car maintenance workshops.

Moroccan-born Abdel Salam is busy setting up his makeshift restaurant adjacent to a passenger bus stop.

“Business climaxes in summer time on the Green Island and thank God I make a lot of money,” he told, while adding more tables to his restaurant to cope with an expected sea of clients.

Saeed and his brother and Abdul Nour, who hail from the Moroccan town of Tetouan, paint their small café every year and repair damaged chairs to ready themselves to what they call the “booming crossing”.

“We immigrated to Spain ten years ago and every summer benefit from the crossing of millions of passengers from Spain and Europe,” they told IOL.

Last year up to 2.5 million passengers and 600,000 vehicles crossed the island heading for waiting ferries in the Strait of Gibraltar, according to official Spanish estimates.

“Many North Africans have opened maintenance workshops on the Green Island to mend what thousands of kilometers have damaged,” added mechanic Rashid, who was born in the Moroccan city of Tangier.

The Island, which is only 14 kilometers from Morocco, has even become a hub for Spanish travel agencies, which provide competitive offers for passengers.

Some Spaniards were also lured by the business-like nature of the island, opening motels and working as cab drivers.

Governments Role

The island has indeed imposed itself on the summer’s emergency plans for both the Spanish and Moroccan governments.

Both governments used to coordinate their efforts every season for the biggest go-and-return crossing movement between Africa and Europe.

They are expecting three million passengers to cross the island and the Strait this summer.

IOL’s correspondent says that the Spanish government has tried to ease the pressure on the island by constructing a highway taking the passengers directly from Green Island’s harbor to the Strait’s ferries.

The government is also faced with almost annual catastrophes of capsized boats carrying hundreds of illegal immigrants basically from North African countries.

Many immigrants, who long dreamt of a luxurious life in Europe, usually ended up in the southeastern Spanish town of El-Ejido and the province of Almeria, where they are treated as second, or even third, class people.

Being illegal workers with no residence papers and often hunted down by police, they are willing to do anything for a living, facing exploitation by opportunist employers.