International Writers Magazine: Comment
ON THE MOVE
Dominguez, the Francisco y Catalina quartermaster
was getting ready to start up the engine of the small shrimp boat
when he spotted a small craft floating aimlessly out of control
in the southern sector of the Mediterranean Sea. Jose!
he shouted down at the skipper who, together with the remainder
of the ten-crew members, was cleaning up the small deck after
having secured the catch of the day down in the hold. Quick!
Get up here! Theres a boat out there with people in it!
seconds, Jose was up on the bridge and, binoculars in hand was focusing
out to sea as Alvaro pointed in the direction of the craft. It didnt
take long for the shrimp boat to come alongside the small wooden boat
crammed with dozens of sick looking human beings, who had not eaten
for days and were just waiting to be rescued.
Forty-three men, eight women - two were pregnant - and a 2 year old
girl, all from the African continent were soon being given warm blankets,
water, and fed hot soup and a slice of bread. However, just a few miles
off the coast of Malta, the shrimp boats ordeal had just begun.
Under no way can we accept the refugees! said a spokesman
for the Maltese government, we are overcrowded already and cannot
accept any more illegal immigrants! The dreaded word
had been spoken. Despite it being a courageous and humanitarian act,
the Francisco y Catalina was not allowed to dock at Valetta
to offload her illegal cargo and carry on with her daily
chores. Instead, a political row erupted involving the European Union
and two of its member states, Spain and Malta over whos responsibility
it was to house yet another wave of Sub-Saharan drifters turning up
at the doorstep of The Promised Land; the continent of
Europe. The incident was soon resolved but not without a great deal
of heartburn for the crew and the Africans who continued to drift at
sea for over two weeks living off the meagre supplies held on board.
The larger issue however, of Africans on the move is a great deal more
serious. It is yet another thorn in the side of the EU, whose politicians
have no idea how to handle or resolve.
How did it all start?
Illegal immigration is nothing new. Just take a look at the USA that
has experienced a constant flow of Latin Americans illegally crossing
the boarder ever since the fall of the Alamo. The result
is millions of Spanish speaking without papers working in
all kinds of trades all over the country and although the Bush administration
is trying to do something about it to curb the influx, they just keep
coming! The situation in Europe however, is more dramatic.
Since the dismantling of the European colonies in Africa, immigrants
from all over the continent have been flocking to Europe seeking jobs
and prosperity. Take Britain for example, that has received hundreds
of thousands of Nigerians and Kenyans, followed by France, with thousands
more from Algiers, whilst Spain and Portugal have had their fare share
arriving from Morocco and Angola. The immigration policies and implementation
in general has been relatively well-planned and organised with proper
permits and job allocation in the respective affluent countries. However,
over the past few years the rationale regarding European immigration
has changed. The slowdown of the birth rate on the one hand and the
increasing number of old age pensioners on the other has introduced
a stumbling block for economic growth. The topic has been on the EUs
political agenda for over a decade. Most politicians and economists
agree that the discrepancy between young and old could only be taken
up by external human influx, i.e. more immigration. The result has been
that the number crunchers have come up with idylic and utopian models
integrated in grand plans to open up the doors of Europe, yet again
to foreign workers and their families. But not everyone has been using
the same script, and like most of the European Union planning, it is
beginning to go horribly wrong.
To start with, the expansion of Europe from 15 to 25 members has once
again distorted the balance of the haves and have-nots. Ah! But the
gurus in Brussels had thought about that and when the big boys like
Poland and Hungary with a highly skilled yet poorly paid workforce were
given the freedom of movement of people as laid down by
European ruling they were with a certain proviso. The rich 15
were not committed to open their doors Willy Nilly but could
do so in phases.
So what happened? As usual, each country did its own thing. Britain,
Sweden and Ireland opened the doors right away and within months Polish
plumbers, electricians and other handymen were crawling all over the
UK. Incidentally, the predictions for migration before the new members
were allowed in have been blown out of the water. A study suggested
that the figures would be around 15000 workers per annum from 2004 to
the end of the decade. So far, over 500000 eastern Europeans have migrated
across to the west and Christmas 2006 has not yet arrived! Spain did
something completely different. It ignored the problems of the north
and focused on its own illegal immigrant situation, particularly the
large influx of Latin Americans already in Spain. The newly elected
socialist government went ahead and passed a law that allowed most of
those already in the country to come forward and legalise their situation.
It backfired! Although many Venezuelans, Ecuadorians and other South
Americans immediately jumped on the bandwagon, a clear message was sent
to others already waiting in the wings from much larger
and poorer countries mainly in Africa. The domino effect opened the
European floodgates. The African tropical storm turned into a human
But Spain was not the only country affected by the avalanche of hungry
African souls seeking refuge in rich Europe. Whereas Spain had been
trying to curb those coming across the Straits of Gibraltar, mainly
from Morocco and Algiers, Italy had been battling the lonely crafts
that were bringing refugees from the Maghreb and the Horn of Africa,
most trying to reach the island of Sicily. The Italians though, were
tackling the problem from a different angle. They were concentrating
their attention on Libya and Colonel Muammar Gadafi as they suspected
that he had something to do with the illegal smuggling of immigrants.
Good old Mr. Gadafi, on the other hand was asking for compensation for
Libyas loses as an ex-Italian colony if they wanted his cooperation.
Although the Mediterranean is now pretty well under control, partly
because of the Spanish shrimp boat incident and following a tragic collision
between a boatload of Africans and an Italian naval vessel with the
loss of around 50 lives, the seeds have been sown for the opening of
a lucrative trade. People smugglers have emerged ready to
take advantage of human hunger and vulnerability of many African nations
and make money out of them. A large sign prevails along the western
coast that says Europe is open for business. Suddenly a
new route had been found.
Over the last month or so, an average of 100 Africans a day, supposedly
from Senegal and Mauritania are making their way across the Atlantic
and reaching the Spanish Canaries Islands. Most are paying their transporters
between Euros 3000 to 6000 to reach their destination. Apart from the
rickety shipyard business hundreds of beautifully
carved and psychedelically painted wooden boats are being built
the passengers are given plenty of water and food to travel
and advised that on arrival they must never state the country they came
from. The obviously have no documents whatsoever. Thus, this new lot
of young fit and eager to work Africans have been coming in droves and
entering Spain without any problem with the authorities having no idea
of their country of origin. The Canary Islands infrastructure
has all but collapsed, the Spanish government is tearing its hair out
and Europe, as usual, just looks the other way. What is the solution?
In the short term, there isnt one. Africa is a large continent
and the inverse of the Call of the Wild is out of the bag.
The tom-tom drums across the continent are loud and clear beating out
the message that Europe is up for grabs. Ironically the European Unions
foundation based on Human Rights and all its ramifications is partly
to blame. The whole of its legislation, it's rules, and its philosophy
is founded on freedom, liberty and above all non-discrimination. Since
World War II, Europeans have learned to live and grow in harmony, rebuild
a continent that in the past had so often tried to destroy it, and finally
achieve the ultimate goal of peace and freedom. Yet this sudden change
in balance of migration could throw the whole European project into
turmoil. Is there light at the end of the tunnel?
Taking into consideration the whole of the world situation, terrorism,
Middle East and other warmongering areas, environmental changes and
pollution, Aids and Asian flu epidemics, rich versus poor and many other
international horrors, the European immigration problem may seem like
small fry or yet another peg to put on the universal problem board.
In many ways it is both. Lack of food, sickness and death added to political
conflict will always cause migration. Africa is probably at the top
of the list of sufferers. Is there any hope?
Until all these plagues are appeased if not eradicated, there is no
stopping the continuing influx of illegal immigrants fighting their
way into Europe. All we can do is try to accommodate them whilst we
pray for a brighter future.
© James Skinner. September 2006.
and the nukes
James Skinner - is nuclear option inevitable?
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