Does Legalizing Immigrants Attract Even More?

Steffen Leidel, Deutsche Welle, September 12, 2006

The wave of African immigrants landing on the Canary Islands continues. Conservative politicians blame Spanish PM Zapatero’s immigration laws for attracting even more. But is their criticism founded?

The pictures on European television screens portray a drama that the continent has seldom seen before. Pictures of African refugees, bodies emaciated with tired, bloodshot eyes, wrapped in blankets being helped on shore by Spanish police and security forces. The message the images intend to send: Whoever risks this voyage, risks his life.

But what continental Europeans are led, or want, to believe, is distorted according to the author of the article “Venir en Europe: mode d’emploi” on the Internet site www.senegalaisement.com. The writer says that chances of dying on the trip to the Canaries are next to zero, as long as the “security measures” are respected.

How to reach Europe on the cheap

The journeys to the Spanish islands located off the northwest African coast on boats that hardly look seaworthy are according to the author “a good solution for Senegalese men,” particularly for young men. All the details about how to reach Europe, including a price list can be found on the Web site.

A place on a boat with a “good motor” costs around 4,500 euros ($5,700) per person. The traveler has to add a bit more for “safety equipment,” gasoline and food. But once the difficult journey is completed, the most “open country in the world” awaits, according to senegalaisement.com. The reader finds out that the life of a refugee in Spain is comfortable and that the Iberian country “holds the world record for legalizing immigrants.”

EU openly critical

Such outspoken words from immigrants reaffirm the beliefs of Spain’s conservatives that Socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has opened the flood gates for waves of uncontrolled immigration to the country. The opposition is particularly critical of Zapatero’s decision last year to grant illegal immigrants legal status. It is a decision that in their eyes attracted even more Africans.

Even the normally staid EU Commission took a shot at Madrid’s new policy. EU Interior and Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini accused Zapatero’s legalization policy of drawing illegal immigrants to Spain.

Alone in this year, 20,000 have landed on the coast of the Canaries, four times that from 2005. Zapatero has tried to stem the tide. In a radio interview, he said Spain “wouldn’t accept clandestine or illegal immigration.” Only the help of the EU and more decisive actions from African countries would throttle the flow of immigrants. Nevertheless, the Spanish leader said his country needs foreign workers—but only ones who travel with proper papers. Illegal immigration is deceit and a violation to a peaceful coexistence of all people in Spain.

NGOs: No magnet for immigrants

Zapatero can depend on support from most refugee organizations for his policies.

“It isn’t a magnet. The people aren’t coming for work papers, they are just coming for work,” said Juan Miralles of the refugee agency Andaluica acoge. “That is purely a political argument. That is also wrong.”

“You can’t say that more immigrants are coming. It’s just that most are choosing to make their way over the Atlantic to the Canary Islands. The classic routes over (the exclaves) Ceuta and Melilla, or across the Straits of Gibralter have become practically impassable because they are being patrolled more tightly.”

Last chance to Spain or better chances at home

Not only has the route to Spain changed, but also the timing. Despite possibly being granted legal status, there is a fear among Africans they may never have the chance to make it to continental Europe.

“Most think: ‘If I don’t flee now, then there won’t be another chance. Tomorrow might be too late if the EU tightens its policies,” said Jose Palazon from the organization Prodein. African refugees know that once on Spanish territory, there is little chance of them being repatriated since Spain has no extradition agreements with most African countries.

Immigrants from Africa in Spain say that the only way to stop the flow is to make life better for potential refugees in their own country.

“Europe shouldn’t send us any money that will then be wasted by politicians. Instead, they should help create jobs for young people,” said Andre Menda from a club of Senegalese immigrants in the province of Roquetas.

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