BARCELONA — On Monday, Aug. 11 and Tuesday, Aug. 12 a combined 1,200 African migrants illegally crossed into Spain from Morocco.
The migrants crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, the choppy nine mile stretch of water that stands between Spain and Morocco. While the crossing is short, it is also highly dangerous. Migrants often cross on small rafts, as opposed to the larger boats used by migrants at longer crossing points.
“The Mediterranean is the largest mass grave in the world,” says Martin Habiague, who has advised European governments on immigration policy. There are no official numbers, but the press estimates that 25,000 people have drowned in the past 20 years attempting to cross the Mediterranean.
The recent shipwreck, which killed at least 360 people off the coast of Lampedusa, Italy received attention in the media. The ship was filled with migrants, mostly from Eritrea, including many women and children who perished.
The staggering number of deaths and the recent surge of migrants into Spain speak to a greater problem: the inequality that drives these migrants from their homes.
Marc Herman is a journalist who lives in Barcelona. He published an article last year attempting to tell the story of the masses of migrants who travel from Africa to Europe. In his article, he explained that there is no common experience that tells the story of these migrants.
“There’s enough poverty, oppression, and war stretching across Africa’s broad midsection that any number of classes of people might wish to escape from it all,” he writes.
In the case of the 1,200 migrants who crossed earlier this month, there have been no reports as to where they came from. Migrants in Spain cannot be deported as long as the police officials do not know their origin country. This means migrants will often destroy their identification papers or refuse to speak, lest their accent give them away.
In general, the majority of migrants are from sub-Saharan Africa. However, Herman writes that Frontex, the EU’s immigration agency, and Red Cross surveys indicate a rise in migrants coming from the Horn of Africa. The politics of the region would support that finding: dictatorships in Eritrea and Sudan, and massive refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.
When the economies of most African countries are compared to even the most struggling European countries, the motivation for the move is undeniable. The total GDP of the European Union for 2012 was $16.63 trillion, while Eritrea stood at $3.09 billion and Somalia at $917.04 million.
Morocco’s interior minister attributed the recent wave of migrants to “dysfunctions” in the Moroccan coast guard. Aid workers have reported that there was not a coast guard patrol to be seen on Monday and Tuesday of that week.
This has prompted analysts to assume Morocco intentionally let the migrants through to show Spain how important Morocco’s border patrol is to Spain’s well-being.
Spanish facilities have been unable to accommodate 1,200 sudden additions and, despite converting two local sport centers to shelters, are overworked and out of space and resources.
The political motive of Morocco explains why there were so many migrants over such a short time span. But, it does not address the root problem: that at any given time there are thousands of Africans desperate to move to Europe.
Birame Ndiaye is one such migrant, he left his country to find a better life in Europe. Herman spoke with him about his journey.
“Europeans leave Europe and go to Africa, and they make a nice life there,” he says. “Why can’t an African do that? I decided to do that, make a nice life.”
Ndiaye arrived in Madrid with two t-shirts and a gray sweatshirt given to him by the Red Cross, and that was all. He left his middle-class lifestyle in his home country and spent six years barely surviving on sporadic employment, until an NGO offered him a training course for entering the restaurant industry.
Since then, Ndiaye has gotten a job at a restaurant in Barcelona and has his own one bedroom apartment nearby. His story is one of success, but Ndiaye attributes it to luck.
“I am lucky. Much, much luck,” he tells Herman, and encourages any young African hopefuls not to make the journey. “It is not worth it,” he says.
– Julianne O’Connor
Sources: The New York Times, Take Part, NPR, Nation Master