Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Spain:Ten Infants On Intercepted Migrant-Smuggling Boat

AllAfrica.com English

Madrid, Aug 02, 2005 (Inter Press Service/All Africa Global Media via COMTEX) --The closure of Spain's borders to immigrants wishing to enter and live in this country without first obtaining a work contract has not curbed the continuous influx of undocumented migrants, including infants, who by law cannot be deported.

Ten babies and 19 adults were on a small boat that was intercepted late Monday by the Spanish police around 30 km from the Strait of Gibraltar.

Sixteen of the adults were women, one of whom was pregnant. They all came from sub-Saharan Africa, although the police have not yet determined their nationalities.

Another overcrowded boat carrying 24 Moroccan men was intercepted a few hours later.

The two boats bring to 1,500 the total number of undocumented immigrants arrested on arrival to Spanish territory this year after braving the perilous journey in substandard vessels across the Mediterranean at the Strait of Gibraltar.

The Moroccans may be deported under a bilateral accord between Spain and Morocco.

But there are questions standing in the way of the deportation of the 29 foreign nationals from sub-Saharan Africa.

Minors and their mothers cannot be deported, which partly explains the large number of women with small children or pregnant women who attempt to make it into Spain.

Moreover, countries that do not have specific agreements with Spain often refuse to take back undocumented immigrants if they are deported. Most of the would-be immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa who reach Spain by sea are undocumented and claim to be citizens of countries that would not accept them back.

The women and infants were taken to the Immigrant Assistance Centre run by the Catholic Church in the city of Tarifa.

Jose Maria, a priest who has spent years assisting immigrants, said the women generally do not talk to anyone or give any information about themselves, and after one or two weeks leave the Centre to head to big cities like Madrid, Barcelona or Valencia "to try to make money however they can and pay off their debt to the mafias that smuggled them into the country."

Police sources told IPS that the cost of these clandestine journeys on unsafe boats ranges between 1,000 and 3,000 euros (1,200 to 3,600 dollars).

The people trafficking networks often put the women into contact with prostitution rings in Spain, usually promising them jobs as domestics or in restaurants and later forcing them into prostitution.

Shortly after taking office in April 2004, the government of socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero announced an amnesty programme for undocumented immigrants, to which some 700,000 people have applied.

One half of them are now legal residents, while the other half are still waiting while attempting to secure work contracts, one of the requirements to qualify for the amnesty.

At the same time, however, the government closed the borders to all non-EU foreign nationals entering Spain with the intent to live here, unless they already have a contract to work in the country.

One of the basic problems stems from the kind of jobs most frequently obtained by immigrants, primarily in construction, agriculture and as domestic workers. These are sectors in which employers often refuse to sign contracts, forcing foreign workers to accept precarious black market employment, for which they neither pay taxes nor have access to social security benefits.

But poverty in Africa will continue to make the search for new horizons in prosperous Europe inevitable.

"There are no walls or police or military controls that can stop people from trying to get into Europe in search of a better life for themselves and their families," said Yolanda Villavicencio, president of the America-Spain Solidarity and Cooperation Association.

In seeking a better life, people put their lives at risk, because the conditions in which they are forced to travel have become increasingly dangerous.

Due to stricter surveillance measures and increased security personnel and equipment, the flimsy boats used to transport undocumented immigrants have begun to follow more out-of-the-way routes and head for more inaccessible destinations, raising the chances of capsizing.

At the same time, many migrant smugglers are giving up the practice of travelling alongside their clients, dropping them off on the coast and then returning to Morocco on the same vessel.

To avoid capture, the pilots of the sub-standard vessels carrying the immigrants abandon the boats as soon as they reach the coast and then make the return trip on better-equipped, faster boats.

As a result, ever more unsafe vessels are used in these operations, with a subsequent increase in accidents and deaths.

Domingo Juan Trujillo, a rescue boat operator, says the people-smuggling vessels frequently take on water and are almost always overloaded, to the point that barely one-quarter of the boat is above the water's surface throughout the crossing.

Trujillo once towed an empty migrant-smuggling boat to shore, he recalled, and when he reached port, all that was left was the piece of wood to which the tugboat's line had been attached.

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