Spanish officials estimate that about 1,000 people have drowned attempting to enter Europe by crossing the 10-mile wide Strait of Gibraltar in the past six years. Spanish officials say that Morocco is tolerating the exit of small boats (pateras).
In 1996, several hundred illegal immigrants, most Moroccans, were picked up by the police and coast guard on the southern shores of Spain.
Morocco's newly appointed prime mister, Aberrahmane Youssoufi, blamed illegal immigration on poverty, and said that "policeman and walls are no solution" to the illegal migration, which should be handled with "realism in order to find human solutions."
On February 16, the interior ministers of Morocco and Italy signed a convention to cooperate in the fight against drug smuggling and illegal immigration. The Italian interior minister said that about 130,000 Moroccans live legally in Italy, the largest foreign community in the country.
"Morocco, Italy to fight drugs, illegal immigration," Reuters, February 16, 1998. "Straits of Gibraltar claim 1,000 lives in six years," Agence France Presse, February 10, 1998.