Spain/Africa: Three-fold increase in dinghy deaths as the EU border moves south

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For the fifth year running, figures concerning verified deaths of migrants attempting the crossing from Africa to Spain have increased substantially, to 1,167 (up from 369 in 2005), although the Asociación Pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía (APDHA) estimates in its annual report that the real figure for 2006 may be closer to 7,000. The number of arrests also increased almost four-fold, bearing witness to the failure of EU policies to stem the flow of people seeking to migrate, from 11,781 to 47,102. The APDHA report views this as inevitable due to the proximity of southern Europe and Spain to northern Africa and the huge gap in wealth and opportunities between Europe and Africa. It highlights economic conditions, human rights violations and situations of conflict and repression that lead people to try their luck by attempting to emigrate from Africa to Europe. In spite of a growing expenditure on border control infrastructure and the deployment of personnel and equipment, and consecutive plans that set out to neutralise migration, the numbers arriving (and dying) are rising as EU border policy moves south down the west coast of Africa.

While more arrests had been carried out in 2005 year on the southern border including Ceuta and Melilla than in the Canary islands (7,066 compared with 4,715), in 2006 the number of arrests in the archipelago rose to 33,126 and that in the Strait of Gibraltar region fell marginally to 6,976, with around 7,000 arrested on the African continent, either in FRONTEX operations or by the law enforcement agencies or navies of Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal and Cape Verde. 10,635 migrants were repatriated up to 30 October, almost half of whom were deported to Morocco (4,909, of whom 3,891 through the land border in Melilla), with Senegalese nationals representing the second largest group with similar figures (4,863).

The cost of expulsions for the Spanish state from April 2004 to October 2006 amounted to over 45m Euros, with steadily rising allocations allocated in successive public administration budgets. The APDHA report details some side-effects of this policy of large-scale expulsions, including: a) the building of a detention centre financed by the EU in Nouadhibou (Mauritania) in April 2006 with a capacity for up to 250 people, in which overcrowding is frequent and unhygienic conditions prevail, according to Red Crescent staff; b) large-scale expulsions carried out without guaranteeing due process and guarantees, violating the fourth protocol of the European Convention of Human Rights that forbids the mass expulsion of migrants, and without guarantees that migrants will be expelled to their real country of origin or will not suffer torture or ill-treatment on arrival, including abandonment, as notoriously happened in Morocco; c) the conditions under which expulsions take place, that have drawn criticism from both police unions and migrants, and led Senegalese authorities to demand that expulsions be carried out while respecting human rights after the first group of 99 deportees arrived in Dakar, handcuffed for hours and without knowing where they were going.

The report outlines developments in immigration policy, by both the Spanish authorities and the EU through operations managed by FRONTEX, the EU agency for the management of operative cooperation at its external borders, and through diplomatic missions seeking to secure repatriation agreements and cooperation in fighting immigration from countries of origin or transit. The response to the "cayuco" (larger wooden boats than was previously the case in the Strait of Gibraltar, where dinghies were prevalent) crisis has been to press forward with the same plan, namely the deployment of human, technological and mobile resources (patrol boats and helicopters) and equipment, including the navy, to monitor the sea border, intense diplomatic activities at both a national (new readmission agreements with Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Gambia, Cape Verde, Guinea Conakry) and international level (with EU-African conferences in Rabat and Tripoli), an increased Spanish presence in the region through the creation of consulates, increased staffing of existing ones, the deployment of secret service staff and involvement in border control activities, an effort to ensure the EU becomes more active in countering these migration flows and an increase in "development" aid, subject to assistance in combating emigration from their countries.

The report details initiatives to tackle immigration from the western coast of Africa to the Canary islands, including the entry into operation of FRONTEX:

FRONTEX deployment - coordinated by the Guardia Civil in Las Palmas (Canary islands), from 10 August 2006 to 15 December 2006, the Hera I and Hera II operations to monitor the flows of emigrants off the coasts of Mauritania, Senegal and Cape Verde with the participation of Spain, Portugal, Italy and Finland, and the deployment of six Guardia Civil patrol boats, one boat from the customs service, Italy and Portugal, two helicopters and four mixed patrol with Senegalese crew members. The Frontex activities are also coordinated with the military operation Noble Sentinel, whereby the Spanish navy deployed three ships and aeroplanes to control the maritime airspace between the Canary islands and Africa, to dissuade the mafia organisations trafficking illegal immigrants and to obtain early information about the possible arrival of migrants.

Atlantis project - joint patrols between the Spanish Guardia Civil and customs service and Mauritanian gendarmerie, involving a patrol boat, a helicopter, a customs police boat and the donation of four patrol boats to Mauritania.

Sea Horse project & network - led by Spain with the participation of Portugal, Germany, Italy, Belgium and France, and with €2m EU funding through the AENEAS programme, to prevent illegal immigration to the Canary islands using sea routes, by "supporting" and "involving" Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal and Cape Verde. The Sea Horse network envisages the setting up of a secure information exchange network between Spain, Portugal and the four participating African countries.

The authors view this externalisation of EU migration policies, and the direct deployment of European police forces at the borders of African countries, as "insulting", noting that it contravenes article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, "every person has a right to leave their country or return to it", drawing a parallel between the condemnation by EU countries of practices forbidding illegal emigration in former Soviet Bloc countries during the Cold War with the imposition of such measures today, and questioning the legality of operations in international waters, arguing that international law allows rescue activities to be carried out, but not arrests.

With regards to the "Plan Africa" that the Spanish government is presenting as an attempt to tackle the underlying causes of migration, a report by Intermón Oxfam is cited that states:

"analysing Plan Africa one wonders whether it is a matter outlining a plan of Spain for Africa or a plan for Spain in Africa"

adding that

"The use of development aid as a currency exchange to get African governments to raise fences, toughen their immigration controls or accept the repatriation of emigrants is a perversion of cooperation for development and is unacceptable".

Derechos Humanos en la Frontera Sur 2006, Asociación pro Derechos Humanos de Andalucía, January 2007. Available at

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