Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the Spanish prime minister, made the announcement in the Canary Islands where more than 1,000 illegal immigrants have arrived from Africa during the past three days. Three more boatloads arrived on the island on Sunday.

Zapatero interrupted his holiday on the Canaries to visit two packed reception centres. The island has become so crowded that some migrants have been flown to mainland Spain while the government tries to negotiate their repatriation.

More than 17,000 immigrants have landed on the islands this year but Spain has had limited success making them return. ABC newspaper has said that only 8% have been sent back.

The Spanish prime minister said that the only way to combat the rising numbers of illegal immigrants was to address poverty, injustice and social inequality in their home countries.

Apart from reinforcing maritime surveillance, "the fight against poverty is the only way to overcome [illegal] immigration," Zapatero said.

European Union support

Maria Theresa Fernandez de la Vega, the vice-president of Spain, will visit Finland - which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Union – to ask it to support efforts to curb illegal immigration and improve cooperation with sub-Saharan Africa.

Most migrants arrive on small
boats from sub-Saharan Africa

Many of the migrants now come through Senegal as stricter border controls in Mauritania and Morocco have pushed the people-traffickers further south.

"They change their routes depending on the controls they meet," Domingo Martin Garcia, head of the Red Cross rapid response team in Tenerife, said.
   
"Our people in Africa have figures estimating that about 100,000 people could be waiting in Senegal for an opportunity to set off in a boat," he said in an interview in ABC newspaper on Sunday.

Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, the interior minister, will travel to Senegal on Monday with an offer of aid and to encourage the country to attempt to stop migrants from departing for the Canaries.

Boats sink off Italy

Italy is also a target for people trying to reach Europe from sub-Saharan Africa. Two boats have sunk off the island of Lampedusa, south of Sicily, in the past two days.

Ten bodies have been found and 10 more people are feared missing. A fishing boat picked up 10 survivors about 100km from the island.

Coastguards overnight on Saturday intercepted two other boats with a total of 54 people on board. Another 37 people from a third boat were arrested after reaching land.