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Africa: Migration and Rights
Sep 16, 2006 (060916)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
Chartered planes started flying illegal African immigrants back
from Spain to Senegal last week, resuming a repatriation program
aimed at stemming the flow of immigrants to this southern European
country. But judging by experience, the return is unlikely to stop
thousands of others from risking their lives in small boats to
reach the Canary Islands from the West African coast, or finding
other perilous ways of reaching the European continent.
More than 20,000 African immigrants have been intercepted this year
in Spain's Canary Islands, including 6,000 in August alone. Rough
estimates are that at least 1,000 a year are lost at sea attempting
the perilous voyage in small boats. This flow is paralleled by
Africans crossing the Mediterranean from Libya to Italy, and by
other trying to cross from Morocco into Spain's northern African
Although African and European countries have been meeting to seek
ways of managing such migration, there seems little prospect of a
durable solution as long as the deep economic disparities persist,
or until the rights of migrants, legal or "illegal," have
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains an analysis from Sokari Eikine
of the situation of African immigrants in Spain, and a report from
Human Rights Watch on human rights abuses against migrants in Libya
and the failures of European Union policy on protecting migrants'
Another AfricaFocus Bulletin sent out today contains excerpts from
new reports by the Economic Commission on Africa and the United
Nations, with more general reflections on the implications of
migration for development.
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Spain's borders strengthened after African refugees storm European
*Sokari Ekine produces the blog Black Looks,
Last year, the UK's 'Sunday Herald Online' reported that "...
thousands of strong, young men at the razor-wire frontiers of these
half-forgotten Spanish possessions launched their most spectacular
raid yet upon fortress Europe..." Sokari Ekine explains that what
drives most Africans to abandon their countries of origin is
poverty and civil strife. She argues that the response of most
Western European countries to the problem is influenced by cultural
prejudice against those from the so-called "Third World".
It is reported that 20,000 men, women and children have reached the
shores of Spain since the beginning of the year, with over 1300
arriving two weekends ago. In eight months the numbers are three
times bigger compared to last year. Those that make it to the
shore, often swimming the last 100 meters, arrive half dead
scattered on beaches amongst the sunbathing tourists.
In an article entitled " The Canaries, The Threatened Paradise,"
Spanish daily El Pais wrote: "What years ago a was slow and distant
dripping of pateras (wooden boats), disembarking ten, twelve
Moroccans, Senegalese, Guineanos or Gambians on beaches of
Fuerteventura, has become an almost daily arrival of boats with 80,
90, the 100 or most sub-Saharans." Arguments are breaking out
between the various provincial and city governments over the
numbers of migrants each is willing to accept from the two landing
points, the Canaries and Andalusia. So far the number of people who
have been deported to their countries of origin is about 1800.
There are layers of realities around immigration in Spain and
Europe. The country has benefited from cheap Moroccan and West
Africa labour on construction sites and in their agricultural
sector, which has resulted in a 2.6% growth in the economy over the
past 10 years. It is projected that without immigrant labour it
would have fallen by 0.6% annually. Similar growth figures apply
for the whole of Europe.
As long as Spain continues to reap benefits from cheap labour, the
Spanish government's rhetoric that it will not tolerate the
continued arrival of migrants cannot be taken very seriously. The
difference between today and a year ago can be explained in terms
Another reality for the Spanish is that they are just waking up to
the fact that Spain is the geographical space where Europe "almost
kisses Africa" (Caryl Phillips, The European Tribe), or is it the
other way around? The contrast between Spain and Africa is
remarkable. The poverty existence of those who inhabit the latter
and the wealthy existence of the Spanish is what prompts many to
cross the Mediterranean in rickety launches. For some of these
people, it is as if Spain is a promised land.
Some leave their own countries because of wars and endless
conflicts. And it must be pointed out that for every migrant,
illegal or legal, there are whole families - and in some cases
communities - that survive on the reparations of those who make the
Spain and the EU are presently initiating a number of projects and
policies in an attempt to slow down, and eventually stop, the
migration of Africans to their shores. However, the polices being
proposed are like using a rag to stop a dripping tap - cheap,
temporary with no substance. This begs the question: are these
policies aimed at reducing the numbers or spreading out the
arrivals rather than stopping immigration altogether?
A Spanish NGO is opening a school in Senegal for 800 students. The
aim is to educate both women (who make up 50% of the school
population) and men. The ultimate goal of the school is to impart
skills to theses young people so that they find employment in their
countries of origin, rather than be compelled to cross the
Mediterranean Sea to Europe.
There are millions of young people presently trying to migrate to
the North - this new policy would have to be replicated hundreds of
times in countries throughout West, North and East Africa as well
as South East Asia, the Middle East and beyond. The school is a
positive step but the reality is that it is a bag of flour amongst
a million hungry people.
In July, in a further sign of desperation, the Spanish government
signed an unprecedented agreement with Senegal to allow the Guardia
Civil to patrol Senegalese waters to prevent migrants from leaving
their homeland. The EU is planning and funding a series of transit
camps across the continent and North Africa (from Ukraine to Libya)
as part of a holistic "system of control" along with the Schengen
agreement, the closing of the two Spanish enclaves in Morocco,
Ceuta and Melilla, that will effectively "barbed wire" Europe.
The contradiction is that many European countries such as Britain
and Spain are in desperate need of increased migration due to
falling birthrates and emigration of their own indigenous citizens.
There are some 4 million Spanish people working abroad and only 2
million foreigners in Spain. The way around the need for migrant
labour - professional, skilled and unskilled - is to present
"legal" immigration in terms of economics and meeting temporary
needs, whilst using asylum seekers and refugees as a way of
rejecting "illegal" migration on ethnic and nationalistic grounds.
There is no doubt that Spanish and European immigration policies
have a strong racial element. Are these new policies directed
towards stopping African migrants, a response to the availability
of cheap labour from Romania and Bulgaria? It is important to note
that these two countries are soon going to be joining EU.
I do not think Spain has reached saturation point in its need for
cheap labour but now African people are having to compete for jobs
with Eastern European people who are also arriving in large
Obviously the lure of hard cash made in Spain drives the migrants
to risk their lives (often repeatedly) to reach Europe. One of the
worst tragedies started last Christmas, when about 53 Senegalese,
most from the village of Casamance, left by boat from Cabo Verde to
the Canaries. The boat was relatively large but had no cover or
shade. There appears to have been some chaos around the departure
of the boat as apparently the Spaniard in charge jumped ship at the
last minute. It is reported that five of the Senegalese also left
the boat and another got scared after the boat set off and jumped
out and swam back to shore.
The boat is thought to have passed Mauritania but when it reached
Nuadibu (Nuadhibou, Mauritania) there was a storm and the
passengers lost control of the boat. They then started to call
friends and family. One of the people they called was a Spanish
pirate. A few hours later they were rescued by another boat which
towed them to the middle of the ocean and then abandoned them. They
only had 40 litres of fuel, which ran out, and, as if this was not
enough, they had to cope with the storms and high seas of the
It is reported that there were a series of storms, with one
approximately every ten days, and high winds pushed the boat
towards Barbados over a four-month period. The people died of
hunger and thirst with bodies being thrown overboard one by one as
There are many West Africans who have been able to create a
successful life in Spain and elsewhere in Europe but also many who
remain impoverished and vulnerable. Interestingly, I was fortunate
enough to have a chat recently with a person who arrived by boat
two months ago from Mauritania and had been sent to Granada from
the Canaries by the government. He had it all worked out that he
would be working on a building site and would have his papers in
two years. Needless to say, there is very little chance for this
person to get papers in two years. Most probably, he will be
exploited and got rid of when he no longer serves his purpose.
In Granada, there is a noticeable increase in the numbers of mostly
Senegalese men on the streets compared to a year ago. I mentioned
this to my Senegalese hair braider who has resided in Granada for
the past five years. She replied, "There are too many coming today.
Before we were not many. Now there are too many and there is
nothing for them to do, the only source of income open to them is
to sell CDs. That is not a life."
In terms of legal rights and status, migrants can be divided into
three groups: the educated elite and experts, who are subject to
very few restrictions and social disadvantages; the mass of
migrants who usually seek seasonal work, whose rights are severely
restricted and whose situation is characterised by poor working
conditions, high unemployment, and poor living conditions; and
"illegal aliens" who are needed on the labour market, but are
politically excluded and have no rights whatsoever.
The irony is that only 30 years ago thousands of seasonal Spanish
migrants, especially from Andalusia, spent their summers working in
northern Europe, Germany and France mainly picking fruit, but also
working on building sites and as casual labourers, just like the
Moroccans and West Africans are doing in Spain today. In those days
the borders were open and skin colour was not an issue. It is
interesting how far international relations have deteriorated, but
most importantly, it is remarkable how the state of affairs seems
to be influenced by cultural prejudice against those from the
so-called "Third World".
Libya: Migrants Abused, But Europe Turns Blind Eye
EU Countries Must Press Libya to Protect Migrants, Asylum Seekers,
Human Rights Watch
(Rome, September 13, 2006) The Libyan government subjects
migrants, asylum seekers and refugees to serious human rights
abuses, including beatings, arbitrary arrests and forced return,
Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The European
Union is currently negotiating joint naval patrols with Libya to
block migration. But EU members, including the frontline country of
Italy, have failed to insist that Libya protect the rights of the
hundreds of thousands of foreigners in the country. The
135-page report, "Stemming the Flow: Abuses Against Migrants,
Asylum Seekers and Refugees," documents how Libyan authorities have
arbitrarily arrested undocumented foreigners, mistreated them in
detention, and forcibly returned them to countries where they could
face persecution or torture, such as Eritrea and Somalia. From 2003
to 2005, the government repatriated roughly 145,000 foreigners,
according to official Libyan figures.
"Libya is not a safe country for migrants, asylum seekers and
refugees," said Bill Frelick, director of refugee policy for Human
Rights Watch. "The European Union is working with Libya to block
these people from reaching Europe rather than helping them to get
the protection they need."
Over the past decade, hundreds of thousands of people have come to
Libya, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, either to stay in the
country or to travel through it to Europe. Many of the foreigners
came for economic reasons, but some fled their home countries due
to persecution or war. Once welcomed as cheap labor, sub-Saharan
Africans in Libya now face tightened immigration controls,
detention and deportation.
A persistent problem is physical abuse at the time of arrest, Human
Rights Watch found. Foreigners who had spent time in Libya also
reported abuse in detention, including beatings, overcrowding,
substandard conditions, lack of access to a lawyer, and limited
information about pending deportations.
In three cases, witnesses told Human Rights Watch that physical
abuse by security forces led to a detained foreigner's death. Three
interviewees also said security officials threatened women
detainees with sexual violence. While detention conditions have
improved in recent years, the evidence suggests that many of these
Some interviewees told Human Rights Watch that they saw or
experienced police corruption during arrest or in detention. After
a bribe, security officials let detainees go or allowed them to
The Libyan government maintains that the arrests of undocumented
foreigners are necessary for public order, and that the security
forces carry them out in accordance with the law. Some border
guards and police officers have used excessive force, officials
told Human Rights Watch, but those isolated incidents were punished
by the state.
According to government statistics, roughly 600,000 foreigners live
and work legally in Libya, a country of about 5.3 million people.
But between 1 and 1.2 million foreigners are in Libya without
proper documentation, placing a strain on resources and
An overarching problem is Libya's refusal to introduce an asylum
law or procedure. Libya has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention,
and the government makes no attempt to identify refugees or others
in need of international protection. The United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has a Tripoli office but no
formal working arrangement with the government.
Some Libyan officials told Human Rights Watch that the country does
not offer asylum because none of the foreigners in the country need
protection. Others were more candid, and told Human Rights Watch
that they fear offering asylum when the government is trying to
reduce the number of foreigners. If Libya provided the opportunity
for asylum, foreigners "would come like locusts," one top official
"The Libyan government says it does not deport refugees," Frelick
said. "But without an asylum law or procedure, how can a person who
fears persecution submit a claim? Who would review that claim and
on what basis?"
Human Rights Watch interviewed 56 migrants, asylum seekers and
refugees, both in Libya and Italy for the report. Of these people,
17 had received refugee status at the time of the interview, either
from UNHCR or the Italian government. Thirteen others were waiting
for the Italian response to their claims.
The report also documents the treatment of foreigners in the Libyan
criminal justice system. Foreigners in Libya reported police
violence and violations of due process, including torture and
unfair trials. Sub-Saharan Africans in particular face hostility
from a xenophobic host population, expressed in blanket accusations
of criminality, verbal and physical attacks, harassment and
extortion. Top Libyan officials blame foreigners for rising crime
and health concerns such as HIV/AIDS.
A large section of the report examines the migration and asylum
policies of the European Union, which is cooperating closely with
Libya on migration control, but not taking adequate regard for the
rights of migrants or the need to protect refugees and others at
risk of abuse on return to their home countries.
Italy, the country most affected by migration from Libya,
egregiously flouted international law under the recent government
of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Human Rights Watch said. In
2004 and 2005, the government expelled more than 2,800 migrants
and quite possibly refugees and others in need of international
protection back to Libya, where the Libyan government sent them to
their countries of origin. At times, the authorities collectively
expelled large groups without a proper screening of possible
The Italian government denied Human Rights Watch access to the main
detention center for people coming from Libya on Lampedusa island,
but eyewitnesses reported unhygienic conditions, overcrowding and
physical abuse by guards.
In a positive development, the current government of Romano Prodi
has said it will not expel individuals to countries that have not
signed the Refugee Convention, including Libya. International
organizations have been allowed regular access to the Lampedusa
facility since this year, and the current government formed a
commission to investigate conditions at immigration detention
centers around the country.
"The Prodi government took a welcome step by halting collective
expulsions and recognizing that Libya is not safe for return,"
Frelick said. "Now it should ensure that everyone who arrives in
Italy or is intercepted at sea gets a proper chance to submit an
To read the Human Rights Watch report, "Stemming the Flow: Abuses
Against Migrants, Asylum Seekers and Refugees," please see:
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