Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Barça ou barsax - Spain's hellish allure

Thanks to Roger Norum for the following piece in the new edition of the Rough Guide:

One of the biggest issues in Senegal today is not taking place at home: Barça ou barsax (“To Barcelona or to hell”) is a common Wolof expression that has become emblematic of the record numbers of Senegalese fleeing to Europe. Many of these attempts take place in rickety wooden fishing boats that regularly capsize or sink – drowning dozens of migrants – before they reach the Canary Islands. Despite the bodies washing up regularly on Spanish shores, the numbers attempting the passage have surged. In 2006, more than 30,000 illegal migrants set off, an estimated 6,000 of whom died or went missing – a six-fold increase on 2005. In 2007 the numbers doubled again to 60,000 migrants and more than 10,000 lost.

For many Senegalese families, shipping a son off to Europe by sea is seen as an opportunity to obtain foreign currency for the family back home, as often for economic advancement as from salvation from abject poverty. Senegal receives EU support to buy equipment to monitor vessels that might be trafficking migrants. In 2006, a pan-European maritime surveillance force, Frontex, was created to help reduce the number of migrant boats making it into international waters. But the organization has so far only been able to stage small-scale patrols off the coast of West Africa. Moreover, human rights groups fear that such measures will only result in more deaths, as desperate migrants leave under more dire conditions and attempt to avoid surveillance by making longer, more perilous journeys.

Most recently, Spanish businesses have launched government-approved programmes engaging directly with Senegal to hire workers for European jobs in the fishing, construction and hospitality industries. With more than €25million in development aid, Spain has created job centres in several African countries to filter potential emigrants, ultimately providing a path toward legal immigration in Europe. The initiative is also intended to rid West Africa of people traffickers.

In an era of conservative immigration policies, in which European countries such as France have adopted less integrationist measures such as offering money to migrant families to return home, Spain’s efforts have had some very positive benefits. It remains to be seen whether the model will encourage other European countries to think more liberally about accepting migrants – ultimately necessary if any marked dent is to be made on illegal immigration.

Somewhat irrelevant photo shows Gaudí's sculptures on the top of his Casa Milá in Barcelona - they've always reminded me of the Osun grove in Osogbo, Nigeria. Much more relevant, however, is a stunning collection of photos by Charlie Mahoney, that popped up on the BBC's African page today, illustrating the miserable plight of African immigrants in Barcelona. Charlie Mahoney's site is here.

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