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Published:November 22nd, 2005 00:26 EST

Risky Journey

By Jermaine Uwahiriwe

For many decades, African immigrants have attempted to reach the world’s richest continent. Despite wounds, drownings and a foreseeable death, clambering the iron fence separating Spain to Morocco and crossing the Mediterranean Sea crowded in old and rusty vessels have been their only resort to reach Europe, where they expect better living conditions.


With no chance to earn a living in their poverty-stricken home countries of Mali, Cameroon, Niger, Burkina Faso, Togo, Chad, Senegal, Rwanda and Ivory Coast, would-be immigrants spend many nights crossing the hostile Sahara aiming at one point: reaching the European Eldorado, either by the Mediterranean sea or the Razor wire fence that they try to climb over-- despite the military patrol.


Ceuta and Melilla (Spain) form a door for immigrants most of the time, using makeshifts wooden ladders while Lampedusa (Italy) makes port to overcrowded rusty and leaky vessels carrying asylum seekers from the horn of Africa (Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea...). Wooden ladders being far less risky than boats. 4000 people have drowned in the past seven years trying to breech the perimeter of Europe. This makes the situation look like a Middle Ages scene, and what’s shameful is that it may be the future face of illegal immigration.


In a Europe, without internal borders, those who make it to Spain or Italy have effectively made it to Europe.


This year, the European side wants to see things changed. Spain wants a joint action with Morocco to control and even to stem the flow, while Italy urges Libya to do much more to stop the migrant boats. Both Governments plan to set up reception centers in North Africa for immigrants denied access.


Spain expelled thousands of immigrants back to Morocco, and Morocco simply took them to the desert near the Algerian border, making them roam in the middle of the desert without food and water.


Resorting to such primitive means of forcing African immigrants to leave their motherlands can be attributed to the living conditions left behind. In the United Nations' Human Development Report for 2005, sub-Saharan African countries accounted for 24 out of the 25 poorest nations in the world.


Africans, in their understanding, migrating to far places is a courageous act.


 "In our culture, those who go abroad are the brave ones. They are like the pioneers in America who headed west.", said one Malian official.
Even though a great portion of immigrants is made by those escaping poverty, some others are asylum seekers who have fled instability and oppression in their home countries. For this reason, many Human rights movements condemn the deportation of these people and charge Spain and Italy for violating the Geneva Convention Accords.

Despite the rapidly aging European population, at their arrival, immigrants stay undocumented and have no legal access to the labor market, health care and education.


"There is a potential for exploitation, particularly women and children.”, noted Emiliao Viano, professor of justice, law and society at American University in Washington.


Because they have no legal access to the labor market, most of the time they survive by crimes, such as theft, prostitution and drug trafficking.


Even citizens from destination countries remain concerned about the massive arrival of immigrants. There’s a fear that this exodus causes a clash of cultures, with immigrants resisting integration, and with the raise of racism or any other ethnic based hate.


The truth is that immigrants aren’t anticipating better conditions as those of their dreams.


The recent fires in Paris may have cast the spotlight on the grim conditions that await illegal immigrants in Europe.


Many resolutions have been proposed to reduce this problem, including calling for more security and peace efforts, for consistent development programs in origin countries-- like investments to create job opportunities, aid to help build better health care, education and infrastructure, in a bid to substantially improve the living conditions of Africans.


Solutions should also take care how to encourage those who have left for better pastures to return back home. Sure, their departure has a negative impact on the African development, since it’s always the African intelligentsia who immigrate.


Better living conditions will surely prevent Africans from being washed away by the Sea on the Sicilian Costs, or to be sliced by the iron wall seeking better life.