Spain through the looking glass

Spain’s forgotten humanitarian crisis

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Every year, thousands of Africans risk their lives by trying to cross the Mediterranean to Spain in the small flat-bottomed boats known locally as pateras.

Pinning their hopes on a better life in Europe, these people often make this intercontinental crossing in boats that are little more than blow-up toys. Even the sturdier vessels are ill-suited to the strong currents and heavy swells of Spain’s Alboran Sea. Then there is the issue of dangerous overcrowding on board.

Figures from the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR show that 74 people were reported dead or missing while attempting this voyage in 2010 – the last year for which figures are available. In 2009, it was 127. In short, this is a humanitarian crisis.

Unfortunately, Spain’s economic problems have deflected attention from the pateras issue.  But the Spanish lawyer Pascual Aguelo has been trying to redress this. In a recent post on his weekly blog for Spain’s peak lawyers’ association Abogacía Española, Aguelo expressed his hope that the economic crisis wouldn’t blind people to the crisis in immigration.

Writing shortly after Spain’s rescue services intercepted a boat from Morocco which contained the corpses of 14 would-be immigrants, the lawyer said it was important not to forget the millions of people who live in countries with deep structural problems.

Aguelo said Spain had seen a 3 per cent drop in the numbers of immigrants trying to enter the country illegally in the first six months of this year compared with the same period in 2011. In real numbers, that meant 2,559 people from January to June this year against 2,637 people last year. The lawyer, who also edits a magazine on legal issues related to immigration in Spain, said that this decline in the numbers of people trying to reach Europe illegally was part of a general tendency in Europe.

But Aguelo also warned that the political situation in northern Mali is causing population shifts throughout the Sahel with figures from the European border protection agency Frontex showing that Mauritania has registered 90,000 arrivals from Mali. The agency is also saying another 20,000 could be in Senegal.

The lawyer also said Syria remained a concern and that some 15,000 Syrians had already made their way to Algeria. It was possible that some of them would now try to cross to Spain from the coasts of that north African country.

Arguelo concluded that all of these figures show that the economic crisis in southern Europe is doing nothing to stop people who are fleeing from misery and despair. He then called on Spain’s politicians, media outlets and citizenry to continue to pay attention to this issue even in these difficult times of crisis.


Written by georgemills25

November 2, 2012 at 10:36

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