Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tiny island creates major migration headache for Spain

Spain lashed out at human traffickers Monday as it grappled with more than 80 immigrants who made their way to a tiny Spanish-owned islet off the coast of Morocco.

The new arrivals landed on the bare, rocky surface of Isla de Tierra, which lies an easy swim off the beach and is the breadth of two football pitches at its widest point.

But it is Spanish sovereign territory, and is therefore an entry point to Europe.

Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said at a news conference he was convinced their arrival was coordinated by “mafia who traffick human beings”.

The problems for Spain began Wednesday when 19 people landed on the uninhabited rock, part of the Alhucemas archipelago which is near the Spanish territory of Melilla.

Melilla and Ceuta are two tiny Spanish exclaves in Morocco, the only land frontier between Africa and Europe.

“The situation deteriorated at dawn on Sunday with the arrival of 68 more immigrants,” the minister said, bringing the total to 87.

Six women and children needed urgent humanitarian help and were transported to Melilla, he said, but the remaining 81 were left on the island with basic help such as blankets, water and food.

Garcia-Margallo did not say what Spain planned to do with the immigrants but Spanish media said the government was hoping they would give up and return to Morocco, about 30 meters (100 feet) away.

The stakes are high for Spain and the European Union because hundreds of people have gathered on the Moroccan side of Ceuta and Melilla hoping for a chance to escape poverty and conflict.

Madrid wants to avoid the latest arrival sparking further attempts to land on small Spanish-owned islands, the minister said, and it has launched discussions with Morocco and European partners.

Garcia-Margallo said Spain had been in talks with Morocco since the start of the islet affair.

“Our conversations are continuing today and I am sure we will find a formula between the two governments,” he said.

Immigration was a matter of European policy, he said, vowing to seek a common solution with Spain’s partners.

A government official in Morocco confirmed that the two governments were seeking a solution.

“While Moroccan security forces enforce strict control along the fences installed by Spain around Melilla and Ceuta, the sub-Saharan migrants use any means, notably traffickers, to get to the other side,” the official said.

The official stressed that Morocco was no longer simply a transit point for sub-Saharan migrants, thousands of whom were now living in big cities such as Casablanca, Rabat and Tangiers.

Rabat considers Ceuta and Melilla, held by Spain since 1580 and 1496, to be “occupied”. Madrid refuses any discussion on the subject, which regularly poisons relations between the two nations.


Australia: New effort to deter illegals

FOOTAGE of a rickety fishing boat being battered by waves is part of a new multimedia campaign outlining Australia's tough new stance targeted at asylum seekers.

As authorities intercepted a boat carrying 81 suspected asylum seekers off the West Australian coast yesterday - the 10th boat to be intercepted since August 22 - the federal government will today launch its "No Advantage" strategy in countries such as Afghanistan, Sri Lank and Indonesia, telling people that they risk processing in Nauru or PNG, may not be resettled in Australia, and cannot sponsor family members to join them.

Videos show unsafe fishing boats and no-frills offshore processing accommodation while imploring refugees to not deal with people smugglers. It comes after the drowning deaths of up to 100 last week when their wooden boat sank in the Sunda Strait, and the arrival of two boats carrying 145 at the weekend.

The 54 Afghans rescued from the sinking are now in Indonesian immigration detention, along with 50 Sri Lankans whose boat was found floundering on the Sumatran coast.

Brochures, posters and YouTube clips in Farsi, Arabic, Tamil, English and other languages tell people their claims will be heard no faster if they risk their lives and they should instead "do the right thing" and apply for visas, which have been increased to 20,000.

"The people smugglers' trade must be stopped to save people drowning at sea," the video says.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the message was "there is no advantage to risking a dangerous journey in a people smuggler's boat".

"They could be processed in Nauru or on Manus Island, and will wait just as long as they would in a refugee camp.

"They will not be able to sponsor family members under the humanitarian program, and there's no guarantee of resettlement in Australia."

Meanwhile, the Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said Australia should begin sending Sri Lankan asylum seekers home immediately, as most were economic migrants.


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