Spain tries new approach to counter illegal immigration


Madrid : Illegal immigration can best be stemmed by promoting legal immigration and development in poorer regions such as Africa, it is often said, but most European immigration policies still focus on fortifying frontiers.

Support TwoCircles

Spain is trying to pass from word to deed, reforming its immigration policy in a way that has won praise from experts.

The policy of blending the carrot and the stick seeks to combine increased frontier surveillance with training professionals in Africa in order to strengthen local entrepreneurial structures and to qualify Africans for the Spanish labour market.

About 1,000 people are to be trained annually in nine countries, and more than 500 mainly Senegalese nationals have already come to work legally in Spain.

Critics say such measures are a drop in the ocean, but Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero’s Socialist government believes the new policy is already contributing to reducing the number of migrants arriving clandestinely in Spain.

“In Africa, a million (euros) can accomplish much more than in Spain,” Labour Minister Jesus Caldera said during a recent visit to West Africa.

Caldera has been touring the region, visiting Senegal, Mauritania, Gambia, Guinea-Conakry, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Cape Verde.

Madrid has signed agreements with several of the countries, pledging financial aid, training and legal emigration in exchange for cooperation against illegal emigration and readmitting illegals expelled by Spain – a sensitive issue for African governments.

Spain has tripled its cooperation budget for Africa to 700 million euros ($970 million) in four years. It has opened, or plans to open, embassies, other diplomatic representations or cooperation offices in more than 10 countries, ranging from Uganda in East Africa to Niger in the west.

Caldera intends to export to Africa the Spanish model of school-workshops for professional training. “Over the past 20 years, these institutions have created half a million jobs in our country,” the minister enthused.

The schools will give training in branches such as construction, agriculture, fishing, tourism, health care, hotels and catering.

The schools have not yet started functioning, but Spanish experts have already been training people in Africa, according to sources at the labour ministry.

More than 500 mainly Senegalese nationals have been hired to work in Spain by companies such as the Vips chain of restaurants, and the builder Acciona.

They earn five times as much as at home, and can get new visas if their contracts are renewed.

“It’s advanced thinking in terms of migration policy,” United Nations migration representative Peter Sutherland told the New York Times. “It’s trailblazing.”

Spanish companies need foreign labour, hiring about 200,000 people annually from countries such as Romania, Morocco or Colombia to work as fruit pickers, masons, waiters or the like.

Employment opportunities are, however, limited to sectors that Spaniards are not keen to work in, a source admits at the labour ministry.

For years, Spain had received a constant influx of undocumented Africans, with thousands more drowning while attempting to cross to the southern coast or the Canary Islands.

Is it a coincidence that at the same time as the government has started opening ways for Africans to emigrate legally, the number of incoming illegals has plunged from 24,300 in the first eight months of 2006 to 9,400 during the corresponding period this year?

The drop is attributed mainly to stricter frontier surveillance, such as European sea and air patrols off West Africa, joint patrols with Senegal and Morocco, and more expulsions of undocumented immigrants, over 8,000 of who have been flown back to Africa so far in 2007.

The government, however, believes that the carrot side of its policy is also having some impact. “All the factors come together” in cutting the flow of illegals, the source at the ministry said.