Wednesday, June 7, 2006

From combined dispatches

DAKAR, Senegal — Authorities in Europe and Africa yesterday drew up a joint plan to fight illegal migration that will combine tougher prevention measures with more aid to persuade young Africans to stay in their homelands.

Harrowing images of parched, exhausted young Africans washing ashore in boats on Spain’s Canary Islands by the thousands this year have given added urgency to moves to improve international cooperation to combat clandestine emigration.

Hundreds are thought to die in the perilous sea voyages of more than 600 miles organized from Mauritania and Senegal by traffickers who run a lucrative business carrying would-be migrants seeking a better life in Europe.

Starting a two-day meeting in the Senegalese capital, senior officials from more than 50 countries of Europe and Africa worked yesterday on a joint action plan that foresees an integrated multinational strategy on migration.

The plan — originally drafted by Morocco, Spain and France, three countries in the front line of the immigration problem — is expected to be adopted by European and African ministers at a summit on migration July 10 and 11 in the Moroccan capital, Rabat.

“This is a political initiative of the highest importance that aims to combine both managing migrant flows and managing development,” said Alvaro Iranzo, a senior Spanish Foreign Ministry official.

On Europe’s southern flank facing Africa, Spain is the first target of thousands of penniless sub-Saharan Africans seeking entry to Europe, and Madrid has begun a diplomatic offensive in West Africa to try to stanch the flow.

But while coastal patrols and surveillance can cut illegal departures, European and African experts agree that such short-term measures will be useless unless the unemployment, poverty and conflict that prompt migration from Africa are tackled.

“If we don’t go to the root causes, there’s not going to be a solution,” Moroccan delegation chief Youssef Amrani said.

Delegates said the novelty of the joint European-African migration initiative was that destination, origin and transit countries were coming together to seek solutions.

“This affects us all. We need a global response,” Mr. Amrani said.

Although a consensus exists for joint action, delegates said they expected discussions on how to find a balance between improved controls to halt illegal migration and long-term measures to help poor countries whose young people were leaving.

The draft plan calls for aid and trade with Africa to attack the root causes of migration and help keep young Africans in their own countries.

But it also proposes stronger police and security cooperation on land, sea and air to crack down on migrant-smuggling networks, which Senegal Interior Minister Ousmane Ngom condemned as “modern-day slavers.”

The draft document also refers to the need for “readmission agreements,” which will allow receiving countries to send back illegal or undesirable migrants to their nations of origin.

Senegal last week suspended repatriation flights from the Canaries, saying its migrants had been mistreated by Spanish authorities. Madrid denied this.

In a related development, an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released yesterday showed that despite the fierce political debate in the United States on immigration, American attitudes toward immigrants are considerably more positive than in several European countries.

People in Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain are much more inclined than those in the United States to think immigrants are likely to get involved in criminal activity.

“Often the immigrants come here and can’t find work; they are forced to become criminals,” said Leonardo Delogu, a doctor from Sardinia who was visiting Rome.

More than a third of Germans, Italians and Spaniards think immigrants are more likely to be involved in criminal activity than people born in their countries. A fourth in France and Britain feel that way.

Those European countries are about evenly divided on whether immigrants are a good influence. In general, people who have higher incomes and are more educated are more likely to say immigrants are a good influence.

In the United States, 52 percent think immigrants are a good influence on the country. Only about one in 10 Americans thinks immigrants are more likely to be involved in crime, according to the poll.

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