/ 11 July 2006

Europe, Africans search for ways to stem migration

European and African ministers said on Monday that the waves of illegal migrants seeking a better life in Europe would never be stopped until Europe helps Africa fight poverty.

The ministers, meeting in Rabat to reach a plan on migration, were from 50 nations — grouping for the first time countries where migrants start out from, transit countries and the destinations.

They said legal migration should be encouraged in order to channel money and skills back to Africa, the world’s poorest continent.

Thousands of African youths make treacherous journeys every year, trying to reach Europe for work. Many die in the attempt, often drowning in rickety boats.

”Let us offer Africa’s youth a future of dignity. Then it will not risk resorting to violence and extremism, or choosing, en masse, the paths of exile,” French President Jacques Chirac said in a letter read in his behalf at the conference.

At least three Africans died last week when up to 70 people stormed a razor-wire fence separating Morocco from the Spanish enclave of Melilla.

Eleven died last year as hundreds of sub-Saharan Africans scaled the fences of Melilla and sister enclave Ceuta, prompting Madrid and Morocco to scramble for the diplomatic drive to bring together Africa and Europe to come up with a plan.

”We are uniting will, ideas and criteria,” Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told the two-day conference. ”We are at a decisive moment. We have the shared responsibility to build a migratory model.”

Senegalese Foreign Minister Cheikh Tidiane Gadio said the systematic refusal of visas by European countries encouraged migrants to seek desperate solutions to their plight.

His Moroccan counterpart, Mohamed Benaissa, warned against the consequences of cracking down on illegal migrants and tightening security at southern Europe’s flank without addressing the underlying causes of migration.

”You can’t limit the problem of immigration to a security approach. Societies that are comfortable cannot abandon poor societies,” he said.

”Morocco is ready to collaborate with its African brothers and to overcome these difficulties.”

Linked fates

Africa’s population is rising sharply and economic growth has not kept pace. In 2001, around 46% of sub-Saharan Africa’s people lived on less than $1 a day.

French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy told Moroccan newspaper Le Matin that managing migration between Africa and Europe would be key to giving new impetus to relations between the two continents.

”The fates of Africa and Europe are linked. A failure of Africa today will be disaster in Europe tomorrow,” Sarkozy, who attended the meeting with three other French ministers, said.

He defended his immigration policy, criticised by migrant rights groups in Europe and Africa as aiming at selecting the best talent and brains from Africa while shutting the doors to poor Africans.

”It was not a question for me to have a selective migrant policy. Immigration for me must be chosen by the country of origin and that of destination,” he said.

Sarkozy, France’s conservative presidential frontrunner, tightened residency rules after youths in poor suburbs — many of them home to descendants of immigrants — went on the rampage last year in a wave of rioting that shocked the country. – Reuters