African migrants attempt entry into the EU via Mediterranean

The dream of jobs in Europe is attracting tens of thousands of Africans each year. With the open-border policy of the European Union and a similar philosophy affecting the European Economic Area, desperate migrants imagine they can enter and live well without a work permit or visa.

Senegal is becoming a jumping off point for many. Due to location, a business is thriving in smuggling illegal immigrants via the Canary Islands and then, theoretically, to Spain and the EU. Such schemes are probably doomed for most individuals, at several points in the process, but stories of success (real or imagined) are fuelling a sustained effort to make the attempt.

Senegalese and other West Africans are making the dangerous journey regularly. Death is common, with locals coining a common phrase of mixed French and Wolof (a Senegalese language) "Barcelone ou barxax" - Barcelona or death.

Estimated so far this year, more than 10,000 have made the attempt from Senegal to the Canaries alone. In late May, the Senegalese Navy intercepted 19 boats with an estimated 1,500 people in a stepped up effort to patrol their home waters. Officials estimated that, at that time, over 7,500 Africans had arrived at the Canaries after completing this particular journey.

Local fishermen, many out of work due to intensive foreign fishing in their traditional waters, have found a new, lucrative business in smuggling. In an economy where the local wage is approximately $80 USD a month, a boat owner can charge over 100 individuals $1000 each to attempt the five or six day journey.

However, some other questions are being raised. Many of the boats are equipped with modern technology, such as GPS equipment and satellite phones. The boats are destroyed to hide the evidence, and the equipment also disappears. The captains of the boats are often attempting the journey for the same reasons as their passengers. It is the boat owners who are pocketing the money, as well as funding the building of new boats, an entire new economy itself spawned by the smuggling process.

In the EU, efforts are being made to tighten the borders, while the United Nations is advancing its Protocol Against Smuggling of Migrants by encouraging member States to update their laws to reflect modern migration concerns.

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