Fortress Europe fights immigration

Article published on Oct. 20, 2006
Article published on Oct. 20, 2006
While the 25 heads of states and governments discuss a common front to fight clandestine immigration in Lahti, NGOs say the EU policy is "expensive and inhuman"

Helicopters, boats and planes were sent by EU member states to control the South East European costal border. But the new anti-immigration operation does not stop there: they work hand in hand with three Senegalese patrol boats and one plane. Their mission is clear: scan the coasts of Mauritania, Senegal and Cap Verde, intercept ‘cuyucos’, small fishing boats which can carry up to 50 to 70 persons, and take their passengers home safe and sound. Operation Hera II conducted by the European border agency Frontex, cost four million euros, 80% of which is paid by the EU. ‘This operation is mostly a dissuasive tool against immigration,’ explains the French daily Liberation. Angél Yuste, coast guard and coordinator of the operation, admits that ‘those who want to reach Europe will always find a way’.

Since the beginning of the year, some 25,000 people have reached the Canary Islands illegally. These are the most fortunate. According to estimates, a sixth of ‘cuyuco’ passengers die drowning before reaching their destination. How many today rest at the bottom of the ocean? Estimates state that 3.000 to 5.000 died this year trying to reach Europe from the African coasts.

Playing Russian roulette

Eight Southern European countries have sent their ministers for foreign affairs to Athens on October 12 and 13. There they will discuss a common stance they’ll defend at the meeting of the European Council at Lahti in Finland on October 12. They will examine the possible creation of a European force of coast guards to survey borders. It is hoped that member states will be able to reach a common stance on immigration policies.

A disarray of laws

To send immigrants home, the Spanish authorities must first identity their countries of origin. This is especially difficult given that many of them do not have ID papers. ‘They find it easier to differenciate Moroccans from Algerians, more that the sub-saharian nationalities,’ explains José Maria Ruiz Huidobro, researcher for the University Institute of migration (IEM).

Some immigrants claim they come from Sierra Leone or Liberia because they know that Spain never signed an agreement of forced repatriation with those countries. On the internet, some websites give detailed instructions on how to sail to Europe on a cuyuco. If after 40 days, authorities have not proceeded to the forced repatriation of the immigrant, he or she can stay as long as they want on Spanish territory. The French are far stricter: entering French territory illegally is considered to a crime and can lead to 6 months in prison. If the police arrest a clandestine worker and can prove that he reached France passing through the Canary Islands, they can send him or her back to Spain.

Shows of solidarity?

Professor Ruiz Huidobro emphasizes the European dimensions of the problem. ‘Member states decided to abolish their interior borders and create a Schengen zone, so logically they should adopt a common stance on immigration issues.’ Nevertheless numerous governments are reluctant to give Brussels the right to legislate on questions of immigration, ‘especially because border patrol and immigration control are the clearest demonstrations of the national sovereignty of states.’

Today short term visa procedures are the same everywhere but work permit regulations still need harmonising. And at present, these procedures can only be modified unanimously, so majority decision making on such issue would be a step in the right direction,’ says Huidobro. ‘But not only is it difficult to obtain a consensus but it is also difficult to implement these decisions swiftly.’

The roots of the problem

The difference in income per inhabitant, the political instability in Sub-Saharan Africa and the absence of future perspectives are a few of the reasons which compel Africans to leave their country and risk their lives to reach Europe. ‘But Europe has declared a war on immigrants,’ maintains Claire Rodier, president of the association Migreurop, before adding ‘these last years, Europe has limited itself to the implementation of Frontex’. According to Rodier these measures are ‘inefficient, expensive, dangerous and inhuman’.

The clandestine workers killed by Moroccan police in Ceuta and Melilla in September 2005, the hundreds of deported citizens in the Sahara desert or the toxic waste left in Abidjan are some examples of European irresponsibility. ‘We should help them leave or create decent living conditions so that they stay in their own country,’ concludes Rodier.

Thus the French Interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy recently promised 2,5 million euros to Senegal only if the authorities ‘accepted and organised the repatriation of clandestine workers who had arrived in Europe’. Ruiz Huidobro criticizes this strategy and deems that it is unilateral and insufficient: ‘on the one hand, the control of these funds is inadequate. African countries also have other priorities and more urgent matters than the fight against clandestine immigration.’

Free way

The association ‘Migreurop’ promotes the free movement of people and considers that 25,000 foreign workers who passed through the Canary Islands can contribute to an aging Europe. On the other hand, professor Huidobro believes that this discourse of ‘‘work permits for everyone’ is completely absurd’. The professor defends the principle that immigration candidates should queue to enter the EU. ‘To prevent human trafficking, we must create consulats, queues and promise immigrants that if they are patients enough they will be able to obtain the appropriate papers,’ he says.

A Marshall plan for Africa

But maybe Europe should at last accept the responsibility it has towards her old colonies. NGOs encourage governments to allocate funds to development, instead of ‘wasting money patrolling our borders’, states Rodier. Others such as Huidobro suggest that the EU should eliminate subventions for EU agriculture for example,’ so that southern farmers may at last sell their produce on Northern markets. Unfortunately heads of states and governments will discuss boasts and planes more than custom fees at their meeting in Lahti.