Zapatero urges fresh European approach to Africa's migration woes

10th December 2007, Comments 0 comments

Spanish leader uses Lisbon summit to promote pact against illegal entry.

10 December 2007

LISBON/MADRID - Spain, more than any other European country, has suffered most directly the effects of illegal migration from Africa in recent years. So at last weekend's EU-Africa Summit in Lisbon, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was keen to drive home a message to the leaders of both continents that more must be done to put a stop to a phenomenon that costs thousands of African lives each year.

"We have to be unwavering in the fight against illegal immigration," Zapatero told heads of state and government from more than 70 European and African nations. "We cannot spend one more day looking the other way."

In 2006, more than 30,000 African boat people arrived in Spain's Canary Islands, and possibly thousands more died trying to make the perilous crossing. The number of arrivals has fallen this year - due largely to increased naval patrols off the West African coast - but Spain has still had to foot the bill for deporting 8,500 African migrants to their countries of origin. Zapatero acknowledged that so far Europe, the world's richest continent, has "failed to rise to the challenge" of dealing with the problems that have led millions of people to try to flee the world's poorest.

"Illegal immigration is the dramatic result of our collective failure that has made citizens vulnerable to human trafficking, abuse and left them without rights in their countries of destination," Zapatero said. He argued, on the other hand, that legal immigration "is a path of hope and opportunities in both directions."

On the back of the EU's plan to introduce a "blue card" scheme for legal immigrants, Zapatero, speaking for EU countries, proposed a pact between Europe and Africa to fight clandestine migration. He also argued that leaders from the two continents should work together to create schools for children, jobs for young men and better infrastructure in Africa. Spain has already set up bilateral deals with several nations exchanging education aid for increased cooperation.

But African leaders argued that the issue of illegal immigration and its roots in economic underdevelopment could not be dealt with so easily - blaming Africa's history of colonisation at the hands of European countries for the problem.

"Colonialism was a negative experience. The backlash is Europe's difficulty now, which is immigration. Our natural resources were robbed. Underdevelopment was imposed on Africa," Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, speaking for African states, declared. "Either you give us back our resources or you invite us into your countries. That's a fairly straightforward choice," he added.

[Copyright EL PAÍS, SL./ PERU EGURBIDE / Ángeles Espinosa 2007]

Subject: Spanish news

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