- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 5, 2005

Each year, thousands of immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa scale fences topped with razor wire or float on rickety rafts in risky and sometimes fatal attempts to reach the European Union.

In an effort to deal with this problem, EU leaders gathered in Hampton Court near London 10 days ago and adopted a two-pronged approach: establish effective border controls and encourage North African countries to develop their economies and train Africans for employment.

“The fight against those who traffic in immigration is a global problem that requires the same unity as the fight against terrorism,” said Juan Fernando Lopez Aguilar, Spain’s justice minister, in an e-mail interview.

At the October summit, Spain — one of the EU countries faced with a growing number of illegal immigrants — offered a “global immigration plan” that was endorsed by France. Although EU statistics show illegal immigration to Spain declined in the past year, Spain says it remains a serious cause of concern.

Ceuta-Melilla deaths

“As [Prime Minister] Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said in London, the fact that Spain is closer to the entry gate of immigrants does not mean we’re the ones who decide when to open or close the door,” Mr. Aguilar said.

The Spanish-Moroccan border incidents in Ceuta and Melilla in September and October, in which Moroccan guards shot more than a dozen people scaling walls to enter the two Spanish enclaves, prompted the European Union to put illegal immigration on its summit agenda.

The incidents revealed flaws in the ambitious EU border-protection plans. The European Commission said the European Union was negligent about protecting borders.

“We are trying to take action on joint management of the migration flow into the European Union,” said Telmo Baltazar, justice and home affairs counselor with the EU delegation to the United States.

Mr. Baltazar said the European Union will meet in early December and try to pass a resolution to deal with the illegal-immigrant issue. “The first step the EU is trying to take is to reinforce border control, particularly by organizing joint maritime control and military operations,” he said.

Temporary refuges

Most sub-Saharan immigrants enter Spain via its North African enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta. They use Morocco, Algeria and Libya as temporary way stations before the last leg of their journey.

“The EU is looking at making sure that these countries have the security to house illegal immigrants inside their territories,” Mr. Baltazar said.

Stressing the need for cooperation with Moroccan authorities, Mr. Aguilar said: “We have to increase cooperation and dialogue with Morocco and with the countries where these immigrants come from.”

Meanwhile, the Moroccan government has been accused of dumping illegal immigrants in the desert without food or water, raising concerns among human rights groups.

“There is a need for the transit nations to have better regulations,” Mr. Baltazar said.

With this goal in view, the European Commission decided at the recent summit to give Morocco at least 40 million euros, most of it to buy surveillance devices to spot and stop illegal immigrants.

Entry policies sought

The Spanish daily newspaper ABC reports that at least 25,000 illegal immigrants from Africa have crossed the Pyrenees in the past few months, and the European Union estimates a half-million illegal immigrants are already in its member countries.

“We need to manage the external borders of the EU, demanding respect for human rights, and to integrate workers by honoring their rights through a policy of migratory flow,” Mr. Aguilar said.

Another approach to curbing the immigrant problem is to provide financial support to the EU countries most affected by the unregulated immigration flow, such as Malta and Spain, Mr. Baltazar said.

Malta, an island republic of 122 square miles in the center of the Mediterranean Sea, has a population of 400,000 and has received 5,000 immigrants since 2002.

During the Oct. 28 summit, Maltese Foreign Minister Michael Frendo told the EUObserver, an independent online news service: “If Spain has a problem with Ceuta and Melilla, we have a crisis here in Malta.”

‘Unwanted’ get help

In a show of solidarity, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Ireland and Germany have pledged to accommodate some of these sub-Saharan immigrants.

“A third strategy that was adopted was to establish partnerships with countries of origin” of the migrants, Mr. Baltazar said. By engaging sub-Saharan countries, the European Union hopes their people will not have to leave their countries and will have more alternatives, he said.

The European Commission is also in talks with Libya and Algeria — key transit countries — and trying to support their efforts against traffickers, who are often the local mafia.

Morocco has reached an agreement with Spain on the repatriation of Moroccan illegal immigrants in Spain. Likewise, coming to an agreement with sub-Saharan countries on repatriation is essential, Mr. Aguilar said.

No. 1 problem

At the summit, Spain pushed for a legal agreement with Morocco, not just to get it to accept the return of immigrants who used the North African country as a transit point, but also find a way to return them to their country of origin.

In Spain, immigration is perceived as the most pressing political problem, according to an opinion poll by the leading private radio network, Cadena Ser. More than 54 percent named immigration as the country’s No. 1 problem — ahead of terrorism and rising unemployment, even.

The majority of those polled also felt that international involvement monitored by the European Union and the United Nations is imperative to solve the problem, putting pressure on Mr. Zapatero.

Meanwhile, authorities in Europe and Africa are playing a “blame game.”

African leader replies

“It’s not security measures, it’s not prisons in Madrid and walls in Africa that will solve the problem,” said Alpha Oumar Konare, former president of Mali and recently elected chairman of the African Union, after talks with EU leaders in Brussels.

On the other hand, the European Commission accuses African governments of not complying with immigration and repatriation measures they agreed to in theory.

Says Eurostat, the European Union’s statistics office, the EU population rose last year by 2.3 million, and 1.9 million of them were immigrants. However, immigrants are essential to balancing the population, because countries such as Greece, Spain, Italy and Poland have very low birthrates. So, according to immigration analysts, stopping immigration altogether is not an option.

Analysts also say that putting up walls and building up the military may not be the key to controlling the escalating problem. “No border is impenetrable and changing the fundamental system will reduce the number of illegal immigrants,” said Diana Furchtgott-Roth, senior fellow and director of the Center of Employment Policy at the Hudson Institute.

U.S. model suggested

She recommends that the European Union modify its immigration system and make it more like that of the United States. The European Union should encourage immigrants to work, but see to it that they don’t get benefits such as housing and welfare, discouraging immigrants coming in solely for the benefits, she says.

Offering another solution to illegal immigration, French scholar and author Patrick Weil, in a paper titled “A Flexible Framework for a Plural Europe,” presented at the Oct. 27 summit in Britain, argued that restrictions on the movement of workers from the new members of the European Union is one of the causes of growing illegal immigration from outside the European Union.

Only the United Kingdom, Ireland and Sweden fully opened their labor markets to new EU citizens. “In those EU states that have opened their labor market, new European citizens fill the jobs that are filled in the rest of Europe by illegal migrants, either from the new member states or non-EU countries,” said Mr. Weil, director of France’s National Center of Scientific Research (CNRS).

He said that countries that continue to close their labor markets may actually have immigrants from non-EU states working there illegally. Rapidly lifting work restrictions on citizens of new EU member states will reduce the demand for and acceptance of illegal immigrants from the sub-Saharan areas, he maintains.

“Restrictions on the movement of workers from the new [EU] member states should be removed immediately under certain criteria,” Mr. Weil said.

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