More illegal migrants headed for Fortress Europe
European and African ministers recently met in Paris for a summit on migration and development. One of the most important points on the agenda was the prevention of illegal immigration.
African refugees: looking for a better life
More and more illegal migrants are attempting to enter Europe. Now that Libya and Morocco have tightened their border controls, more are using Algeria as a transit country. In addition, many Algerians are joining the quest to build a new life in Europe.
Estimates of illegal migration are far from accurate. A rather morbid indication can be gained from a recent report by the Algerian navy, which shows a rise in the number of bodies fished out of the sea: 29 bodies were found in 2005, compared to 83 in 2007. There has also been an increase in the number of migrants who were caught attempting to flee to Europe, from 335 in 2005 to 1,530 in 2007. Last year, more than 90 percent were Algerian citizens.
Faacal Mattawi, an Algerian journalist who writes for the quality newspaper El Watan, says the Algerian border is thousands of kilometres long and difficult to patrol. Migrants depart from the Algerian coast by boat and cross the Mediterranean Sea.
The number of migrants is increasing because Algerians are leaving as well. These illegal migrants are referred to as "Harraga" (people who have burnt their bridges). The increased migration has been met with tighter controls along the coast.
The reason why the Algerian authorities found it necessary to crack down on illegal migration was demonstrated by the fact that the coast guard rescued 25 migrants from drowning on the same day that Algeria became one of the first countries to pass a law making illegal migration a punishable office.
"Many Harraga emigrate as a result of poor living conditions, poverty and unemployment. These problems reflect on the government. After all, Algeria is a wealthy country. Creating better conditions for Algerians is the best solution, not repression."
Less well known are the degrading conditions which African migrants face on their way to the northern coast of Algeria. Many people die while travelling through the desert. However, risking dying of thirst is not the only danger.
"The trip from the south to the north always takes place in difficult, or even inhuman, circumstances. The behaviour of the security agencies and border patrols makes it even worse. Sometimes human rights are violated, even though these people are not thieves, criminals or terrorists, but only people looking for a better life. The security services treat them poorly because of who they are and where they come from."
Ministers from 27 EU and 27 African countries will meet in Paris for a follow-up to the Ministerial Euro-African Conference on Migration and Development which took place in Rabat in 2006. Last month the European Union agreed to a pact which made it even more difficult for illegal migrants to enter Fort Europe.
At the same time, it will be easier to send them back to their countries of origin. The African countries are expected to develop a joint policy so that their citizens will be less likely to leave.
Migrants from the Maghreb countries or those south of the Sahara will have a hard time in future. The trip is degrading and dangerous. And those who succeed in reaching Europe face a growing chance of being deported. Meanwhile human rights organisations have been questioning the legality of some of the repressive measures.