Thursday 06 October 2005
War and poverty are the root causes of mass migration across Africa. German commentators argue on Thursday that if solutions to these conditions aren't found, Africans will continue to seek a better life in Europe. Fences, no matter how high or razor-sharp, are not enough to stop them.
The migrants come from every part of Africa and risk life and limb for a better life in Europe. Their gateway is the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and nearby Ceuta in northern Morocco. There, the only thing that divides them from Western Europe and a life of abject poverty in Africa are two razor wire fences reaching as high as six meters. But this week it became clear that not even the razor fences can stop them - in their efforts to get into Europe, the migrants will risk being shot, cutting themselves severely or breaking bones. On Wednesday, more than a thousand African immigrants stormed the fence at Mellila in one of the largest attempted onslaughts of immigrants yet. Spanish police succeeded in repelling most of them.
Following recent pressures at the two enclaves, Spain has joined Morocco in calling for a "Marshall Plan" for Africa in the hope it will stem the flow of migrants to Europe. Ceuta and Melilla are particularly attractive to migrants because Spanish law requires refugees to be released from detention after 40 days if they are unable to return to their country of origin. Since most African countries refuse to take them back, they are released into Spanish society. Although they may be carrying deportation orders, Spain only has repatriation agreements with Morroco, Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal. The rest live in a sort of interzone - they live and work illegally without permits, but they can't be deported. That's obviously an unattractive situation for the Spanish government. To keep the Africans from reaching Spain, Madrid now wants to build a third and even higher fence at Melilla.
German papers on Thursday see the situation in Ceuta and Melilla as microcosms of the greater problems that plague Africa - and they almost universally condemn the Spanish for their fence-building plan.
"What is happening in Melilla is only a fraction of the problem," writes the center-left S?sche Zeitung. "Africa is suffering from a huge internal refugee crisis and only a small number of migrants attempt to reach Europe, even if media reports give a different impression." The biggest refugee problem is in Africa itself, and economic refugees to Western Europe are by far the smallest group. The vast majority of migrants in Africa are fleeing the horrors of war. Hundreds of thousands have fled to Kenya from Somalia, Rwanda, Congo and Burundi as wars broke out in recent years. More than a million Zimbabweans have fled their despotic ruler, Robert Mugabe, by illegally emigrating to South Africa or Botswana. And in Chad, hundreds of thousands of Sudanese have sought refuge from murderous militias. Even tiny Ghana has been forced to take on hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the civil war in Liberia. Without secure borders, these countries have no choice but to tolerate these migrants. The migration problems are enormous and can't be solved overnight. "Europe," the editorial concludes, "must be prepared for more refugees."
The leftist Die Tageszeitung uses a Cold War analogy as a lens through which to look at the current problems. "When the Wall stood in Berlin," the paper writes, "the West preached freedom of movement." But that's no longer the case today. "Today the walls do not stand between East and West, but between North and South." The Free West, the paper laments, has become "Fortress Europe." However, the paper writes, human rights are indivisible and what applies to Europeans cannot be denied to Africans. Melilla shows there is a threat of apartheid between the continents. But experience with German reunification and European enlargement, the paper concludes, "shows that most Africans would still remain at home if they were allowed to travel to Europe with dignity." In conclusion, the paper appeals for Europe to take its own values more seriously.
No fence can stop the refugees, writes the business daily Financial Times Deutschland, "only the prospect of a better life." The paper then lashes out at Europe for building fences aimed at keeping people away from their life's goals - things Europeans take for granted each morning when they wake up: peace, security and prosperity. The paper also addresses the fact that precious few developed nations have made good on their 1992 pledge in Rio to allocate 0.7 percent of gross domestic product to development aid. Worse yet, "they tolerate corrupt and murderous African leaders" and diplomats barely lift a finger when genocide happens in Sudan. Add to that Africa's abysmal investment climate and its hard not to feel deeply pessimistic. "As long as nothing is changed, thousands more will continue making their way to Europe."
On the brighter side, sort of, the Berlin daily Berliner Zeitung sees a silver lining in the tragic conditions African migrants face. "It is seldom," the paper writes, "that we see the positive sides of legal and illegal immigration." It then cites the often overlooked fact that immigrants make a major contribution to their economies back home. In 2004, African immigrants wired $150 billion to their families back at home - three times the amount of official development aid. But instead of drafting an effective asylum and immigration policy, Europe has squandered the opportunity, instead building a Fortress Europe to keep undesired immigrants out. "Events in Melilla show the consequences of this policy," the paper concludes. "Now the fences are being reinforced and the Geneva Convention is being flouted."
The financial daily Handelsblatt agrees, saying that fences may stop a few Africans from getting to Europe, but they won't solve the greater problem. "Everyone knows that people who see the slightest chance of escaping absolute poverty will not be stopped by fences, walls or even police truncheons and guns," the paper writes. It argues it would be "cynical" to ignore the humanitarian background of the wave of immigration. And it can't be stopped using repressive measures. Both Madrid and Brussels have understood this. Next week, the paper notes, the EU is planning to unveil a new plan for Africa. "But we shouldn't be too optimistic," it concludes, "this isn't the first time Brussels has pledged help for Africa." Unfortunately, earlier attempts have delivered few results and the paper holds out little hope that Brussels will achieve much this time either.
Last Updated October 7, 2005 11:39 AM