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Illegal Immigration into Europe from Africa

Aired June 7, 2006 - 18:00:00   ET


JONATHAN MANN, CNN HOST: Strangers in paradise. The Canary Islands have long been a haven for tourists. Now they attract illegals risking their lives trying to get away from it all.
Hello and welcome.

The Canary Islands attract 10 million travelers a year. And there's good reason: year-round sun and surf, beautiful landscape and people who love to party. But the Canaries are also attracting the poorest travelers on the planet for much more compelling reasons. The Canary Islands are part of Spain, sitting just off the coast of Morocco. African migrants are arriving there in record numbers, using it as an entryway to Spain and then Spain as an entryway to all of Europe.

It's a strange and growing burden for island authorities, but it's serious even back on mainland Spain.

On our program today, a last resort.

CNN's Paula Newton has this look.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): To the beat of the music, Tenor Reef (ph), one of Spain's Canary Islands, lives up to its billing as vacationers dance the night away.

Back on the pier, the Red Cross is working the night away, and there is no time to waste.

AUSTIN TAYLOR WAINWRIGHT, RED CROSS: We have to be ready (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in about 10 minutes or so.

NEWTON: For months, Red Cross coordinator Austin Taylor Wainwright has been orchestrating a relief effort, pulling all nighters of his own when called for.

WAINWRIGHT: We're seeing in some cases up to four or five a day. We had an 11-year-old. We've seen a 13-year-old boy with no family members at all, on his own. So, it's a quite difficult scene sometimes.

NEWTON: The basics of life are assembled, the care skillfully choreographed. This pier normally receives tourists in search of a vacation just as skillfully delivered.

But late into the evening here, they're expecting dozens of Africans who have made this dangerous journey to escape the poverty of their homeland.

(on camera): Right now, they're scrambling to get this makeshift medical center together. They've been told to expect a boat in the next few minutes, and it really is important that they're ready for anything. Some of these people will have been at sea for more than two weeks, and their medical conditions at times have been critical.

WAINWRIGHT: The most common problem is (UNINTELLIGIBLE), but very, very bad (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Most of them are absolutely soaking wet. A change of clothes, basically a track suit, and a change of underwear, a couple of tee-shirts and socks.

The most important thing is to get them dry.

NEWTON (voice-over): All is ready. It takes just 30 minutes.

On land, it's business as usual, while in the shadow of the discos and the five-star resorts the rescue boat rolls in and 63 now illegal aliens from Africa have reached the frontier of Europe.

One by one, they stagger off, cold, wet, hungry but safe. We're told they barely made it. Their boat was close to sinking in the Atlantic after a bleak 10-day journey from Senegal.

WAINWRIGHT: If you look into their eyes, you can see the desperation to arrive here. They're really afraid. It must be a huge culture shock.

NEWTON (on camera): After some terrifying days at sea, these people think they're home free now, they've made it. What they don't know is that the Spanish government is already negotiating to send them back.

(voice-over): That's because by day pleasure craft take the place of rescue boats, a peaceful retreat for tourists reclaimed. For vacationers all over Europe, this is an easy to reach resort where the temperature is close to perfect all the time.

They do hear about the thousands of desperate Africans who struggled so hard to reach these shores and it elicits sympathy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're trying to get out for a better life, aren't they?

NEWTON: But these Spanish islands off the coast of Morocco have no intention of playing host. More than 9,000 illegal immigrants have arrived so far this year, doubling the number who can in all of last year. This Spanish business person will tell you it's not affecting tourism, not yet.

MIGUEL MARCADO, SPANISH VENDOR: Barely noticed (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and that's all, you know. It's another photo they have from their holiday, that's all. I think that's the impression it has on the tourists here.

NEWTON: But Spain says it won't deal with all of this alone. Under Spanish law, if illegal immigrants can't be departed within 40 days, they are set free to roam Europe illegally.

Back on the dock, the police keep us from talking to any one of them, but their voices have been heard. Like a chorus, they tell aid workers better to die at sea than live in Africa.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's difficult, because we realize that they're coming here out of complete necessity. They're looking to feed their families who are hungry at home. But it's a small island here as well, so obviously the island can't sustain that sort of influx in people. So it's very tough.

NEWTON: So, the police van rolls up, the migrants are rounded up, headed for a detention center a mere hour after they've arrived. They've risked everything to get to Europe, but most will never get what they really want, a new home.

The Red Cross packs up. The next arrivals could be days or even just hours away, but in the meantime the island is restored as a refuge for tourists.

Paula Newton, CNN, Tenor Reef (ph), Spain.


MANN: This is actually peak season for migrants trying to make the crossing from Africa to Europe. The waters are relatively calm now, so the chances of survival are better. The lucky refugees make it to shore somewhere, anywhere, in the Mediterranean. Boats routinely wash up on the beaches of Lampedusa, for example, a tiny Italian vacation spot off the coast of Sicily.

But as Juliet Bremner reports, life on land for the immigrants can be just as hazardous as the journey by sea.


JULIET BREMNER, ITV CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Lampedusa makes its money from tourism. It doesn't want sunbathers frightened off by the thought of illegals arriving on the golden sands. Well out of sight is the detention center, with just 200 beds. There are frequent complaints it's unhygienic and overcrowded. When we tried to get a look inside, we were politely but firmly turned away.

They can't keep the immigrants here, so they fly them out as quickly as possible. Few can realize what horror lies ahead.

In the southeast corner of Sicily, I found a scarcely believable place, a filthy camp, home to about 300 African men. 28-year-old Ali (ph) is one of them. He escaped from the war in Darfur, hoping Europe would welcome him as a refugee. Instead, he lives in squalor without money or accomodation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here is our past home. We used to take showers here. This is our past home.

BREMNER (on camera): And where is the water?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Water? There is no water here, of course. We took water from that small village.

BREMNER (voice-over): He and his friends wish they had never come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We hope that here we change our lives, but I think here and there is the same. Maybe Darfur is better than here, I think so.

BREMNER (on camera): So, you feel that Darfur, even when there is war, is maybe better than here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's better, because I know how to solve my problems there, but here, no.

BREMNER: This is Europe's hidden problem. It looks as if I'm in a grove of olives and lemon trees. But then, concealed under hundreds of trees are the most basic kind of camps, the kind you'd expect to find in Africa. The twist is, we're in southern Italy.

(voice-over): They come to Casibeli (ph) as cheap labor to work illegally in the fields. Employed by local farmers picking potatoes, they're paid 25 pounds a day. Despite their numbers, these men might as well be invisible. But Medecins Sans Frontieres believes it is time Europe woke up and saw their plight.

GUILHAM MOINIE, MEDECINS SANS FRONTIERES: This problem cannot be treated just by these little village in Sicily. This is a European problem. We have to really push throughout Europe a policy to welcome these persons in the correct way and to give them a future, because these persons here don't have any future in these conditions.

BREMNER: Every day brings more Lampedusa landings. Men and women who've struggled physically and emotionally to make this journey only to realize it would have been better if they hadn't bothered.

Juliet Bremner, ITV NEWS, Lampedusa.


MANN: We take a break now. More on destinations your travel agent doesn't have in mind when we come back.

Stay with us.


MANN: For centuries, the island of Malta has been a port of call for travelers on the Mediterranean. Now it too is getting travelers of a different kind. Its 400,000 people are getting a growing number of illegal immigrants who set off from Libya, 300 kilometers to the south.

Welcome back.

A lot of the migrants who land on Malta apparently do so by mistake, hoping to reach Italy instead. Though the numbers are still small, fewer than 2,000 last year, Malta is itself very small, and it's one more place waiting for someone to solve the problem.

Joining us now is Geoff Porter, North Africa and Middle East analyst at the Eurasia Group, an international risk advisory and consulting firm.

Thanks so much for being with us.

People in Malta are surprised. Lampedusa, they're surprised. The Canary Islands are surprised. Tourists don't expect to be seeing these people showing up on the same beaches that they're lying out and suntanning on. Should they be surprised? Are you surprised?

GEOFF PORTER, EURASIA GROUP: I think to a certain degree there is a surprising element of the degree to which immigration has increased over the last couple of years, but at the same time there has been a change in technologies, which I think has allowed for increased migration over longer distances of open sea.

If you take the case of the migration, or immigration, from Senegal to the Canary Islands, you've got two factors colluding to make that trip possible where it wasn't in the past. On the one hand, you've got handheld GPSs, which allow the captains navigating these boats to actually make the islands and not end up in the middle of the Atlantic. And, secondly, you've got bigger boats that are emerging from Senegal. A couple of years ago, you would have had boats that were maybe 5 to 6 meters long. Nowadays, the boats coming out of Senegal are 10 to 20 meters long.

So, there are two different factors that have emerged over the course of time which have made this increased immigration possible.

MANN: Now, we've mentioned Malta, Lampedusa, Canary Islands. How many different places are there better boats and GPS equipped pilots taking migrants too?

PORTER: I think you've named the most recent additions to the migration out of Africa and trying to get to Europe, but, of course, there are other more conventional ones as well, such as Tangier and Morocco, Septa (ph) and Malilia (ph), also in Morocco. There are conventional migration routes out of Algeria, also out of Tunisia. There are also conventional routes out of, say, western Egypt, trying to reach into Libya and then springboard from Libya up to Malta or Lampedusa.

So, there is any number of different spots that are emerging, and as the more conventional jump off points to Europe get better policed, new ones will start to emerge as well.

MANN: How does a migrant actually choose which way to go? Is it random or are there networks or information that suggests one path over another?

PORTER: Well, there is quite a bit of word of mouth. When I used to live in Morocco, I brought a few sub-Saharan Africans who tried to make it to Europe and some would try, and they're reach the Moroccan border or they'd reach the border with Septa (ph) or Malilia (ph), and they'd get deterred. And they'd come back to the city, they'd come back to the caf‚ and they'd recount their story of what happened. And then they would try again.

And, in fact, one of the guys that I knew who tried three times finally ended up in Barcelona. He tried a different route, managed to make it there and now is happily living in Spain.

MANN: So, is it entirely random or does it tend to be fairly organized, fairly sophisticated in the way people choose how they're going to go and who they're going to go with?

PORTER: I think there is a sort of learning curve, where the younger guys start out, and they may be more ambitious and think they can do it on their own. Obviously, they get rebuffed. Some of them get lucky and actually make it through.

Those who get rebuffed, they start to tap into more established networks and realized that there is a -- there are tried and true means of getting into Europe from North Africa.

MANN: As these new routes appear, do the old ones get closed off? Or is this just a, to use the boat metaphor, a boat that's leaking from more and more places?

PORTER: It varies. As the new ones emerge, the old ones are still there, but they're better policed, so fewer and fewer people are getting through. So, for example, the Spanish enclaves of Septa (ph) and Malilia (ph) in Morocco are much better policed now. The Moroccans have shown that they're willing to shoot migrants trying to illegally cross that border, so that's slowed the movement of people across that border to a trickle, but it's still there. And at the same time, the migrants are trying new routes as well.

MANN: These people are putting their lives at risk. The journeys are dangerous, unpleasant, but overall is the smart money going this way? I mean, would you blame these people? Or are they making a rational choice for the right reasons and would a betting man follow them?

PORTER: It's awfully difficult to put myself in their shoes. But there is a sense of urgency amongst those that do make the trip, that if they can make it to Europe, then perhaps they can have a better life.

I think there is a certain delusion as well that Europe may offer them things that it really can't, and they're not quite prepared for the life that they will have in Europe, but I think they assume that even the worst life in Europe is better than the best life in Africa.

MANN: Jeff Porter, of the Eurasia Group, thank you very much for this.

PORTER: Thank you.

MANN: We take another break. When we come back, the Spanish dilemma. Are the migrants too much of a good thing?

Stay with us.


MANN: Spain's immigration problem is bigger than it can solve alone. In Dakar, Senegal this week, a first. Officials from the African countries the migrants are leaving and the European countries they're entering met to try to decide what to do. Spain wants to address the problem, but is unsure how to proceed.

Welcome back.

Spain is the No. 1 destination for migrants trying to get into the European Union. In part, it's because they know they're needed there, and that is the Spanish dilemma. It doesn't want illegal migrants, but it sure can use them.

Our Madrid bureau chief, Al Goodman, reports.


AL GOODMAN, CNN MADRID BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): They come, boatload after boatload, seeking jobs in Spain, even as the country as beefed up surveillance along illegal immigration routes from Africa. From high in the sky and on the sea. But Spain's prime minister says his country needs the immigrants.

JOSE LUIS RODRIGUEZ ZAPATERO, SPANISH PRIME MIN. (through translator): Immigration is contributing importantly to Spain's economic development, but immigration must be legal and tied to the needs of the labor market.

GOODMAN: Many Spaniards remember just a few decades ago poor Spaniards themselves went to Northern Europe seeking jobs, but now Spain has joined the club of wealthier nations, the economy is booming but Spain's birth rate is low. Immigrants from Latin America, Africa and Eastern Europe help fill the gap.

Two million foreigners work here now, about 5 percent of Spain's population, in construction, in restaurants and hotels, and in the fields.

"They're workers," says this man, "and are just trying to get ahead, like us."

But one recent poll found most Spaniards think there are too many immigrants.

MARIANO RAJOY, CONSERVATIVE OPPOSITION LEADER (through translator): The problem that most worries Spaniards is immigration. The government has lost control of illegal immigration.

GOODMAN: Flashpoints: insults here again all immigrants on the sidelines of a demonstration last year in Madrid after a single immigrant was accused of murdering a Spaniard.

"It's getting more dangerous to go out on the street," she says.

"I personally haven't had a problem," says this woman.

Spain recently sent officials to Africa offering aid in exchange for help in reducing immigration.

BERNARDINO LEON, SPANISH FOREIGN MINISTRY: We are not against immigration. We are against illegal immigration. So, we are trying to establish a framework for cooperation in different fields.

GOODMAN: The prime minister and the government granted amnesty last year for 600,000 illegal immigrants to work here legally, and still immigrants arrive here illegally, wave after wave after wave, seemingly with no end in sight.

Al Goodman, CNN, Madrid.


MANN: Joining us now to talk about immigration policy in Spain and across Europe is Gregory Maniatis, a senior policy fellow at the Migration Policy Institute.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Is Spain a special case because of its economy, because of its need for new labor?

GREGORY MANIATIS, MIGRATION POLICY INSTITUTE: Well, Spain is one of a handful of European countries that have been doing well economically. And so therefore are attracting more immigrants.

Spain is doing well. Ireland and a couple of other countries are doing quite well. Greece as well.

MANN: I ask, because in a sense Spain's own policies are fueling the problem. If a migrant can get to the Canary Islands and they do not identify their country of origin, Spain will take them to the mainland. If they get to the mainland and they can find a job, they can essentially stay. And that's the way it's supposed to work.

MANIATIS: That's one way of looking at it, that Spain is the cause of the problem because it did regularize 600,000 immigrants last year. But I think you have to look at it a little bit more broadly and ask the question of whether Europe needs an illegal immigration policy or if it needs much more broadly a comprehensive policy to address the needs of its economy for workers and perhaps by doing that it would then relieve some of the pressure that exists through illegal channels.

So, illegal immigrants are coming because there are jobs in Europe, not because alone they're trying to flee Africa. They, through their networks, understand that there are certain parts of Europe where the economies are doing well and they're going to jobs that exist there for them.

MANN: You're suggesting that we have to look at the big picture. That seems to make sense.

I want to bring you back, though, to what Spain has actually done. You know the history better than I do, but if you look back, there seem to have been five different amnesties for illegal migrants in Spain over the last 10 years. They don't seem to be looking at the big picture. They seem to be trying to solve the problems that they have all at once and amnesty suggests an inducement, once again.

MANIATIS: You're absolutely right, that the route of regularization is probably not the best way to go about it, neither for Spain nor for other countries in Europe that have done that.

But in order to not have regularization, you need to be able to allow workers into Europe through legal channels. But that is a very difficult proposition for European politicians to sell to their public. To say to them that we're going to allow legal workers in is a position that will lose you votes in many countries. In a couple of European countries, if we take Denmark and Austria, the ruling coalitions rely on far right wing parties to stay in power.

So, the sensible thing to do would be to say that we need a certain number of migrants, as the Spanish foreign ministry official said. The immigration quotas should respond to our labor market needs. But Europeans are not there yet. They are not ready yet to officially allow a much greater number of immigrants in. And so all of that pressure goes onto the illegal channel, and after a year or two or three, you realize that you can't have this marginalized population in your country, and then there is pressure for regularization to make them legal citizens, which is the correct thing to do, ultimately. You can't have a second class citizenry in any country.

MANN: The United States doesn't know what it wants to do about Mexicans coming across its border. I guess it's inevitable that Europe would be confused as well.

In the meantime, once again, from Africa to the Canary Islands, from the Canary Islands to Spain, anyone who can get that far and become regularized, naturalized in Spain, ends up a citizen of the new Europe. How angry are European nations at Spain in particular or at each other, blaming each other for the migrants who are moving across their borders?

MANIATIS: Well, they were quite angry at Spain over the case of the regularization. Let me clarify that. Regularizing doesn't necessarily mean that they become citizens of Europe. They become regularized residents of Spain with certain rights, but certainly not full citizenship rights, and often not even the right to move to other countries, though they do have an easier time getting across borders when they're regularized.

But the European Union right now is still trying to come up with an overall immigration policy that is comprehensive in all of its aspects, not just to deal with illegal immigration, to deal with the economic needs of Europe, to allow legal migration, and also to develop a policy for Africa, because clearly if you want to let some of the steam out of this, you have to be able to allow Africa to develop more and help Africa develop more over the course of the coming years. Europe already spends about 9 billion euros on development and it needs to target that to Africa.

MANN: We have just a moment, so I'm going to interrupt and ask you a last question on that very subject. Is the idea that to fix the immigration problem, Europe is going to have to fix Africa? And if that's the case, is that just too big a job?

MANIATIS: No, it's not the case that Europe has to fix Africa. There are many reasons to help Africa develop better economically, socially and politically.

Immigrants come to Europe in large part and mostly because there are jobs for them there. So, the goal for Europe is to understand its economy better, understand its labor market needs, and allow for legal migration and also to train its own citizens to fill the jobs that will exist over the coming years.

MANN: Gregory Maniatis, of the Migration Policy Institute, thanks so much for talking with us.

MANIATIS: Thank you for having me.

MANN: And that's INSIGHT. I'm Jonathan Mann. The news continues.



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