Crossing borders

On the 7th February Spain launched its three month  amnesty to some of the  800,000 illegal immigrants living in the country.  The amnesty offered by Spain’s new socialist government the PSOE  ends today 7th May and applied to all illegal immigrants who have lived in Spain since August 2004 and who hold a work contract.   The Spanish government has also said it would no longer turn back boats carrying would be immigrants from Africa.

Every year thousands of Africans –  Senegalese, Nigerians, Ghanaians, Moroccans, Mauritanians arrive in Spain either on the southern Atlantic coast or on the Canary Islands off the coast of North East Africa.  From there they disperse throughout the country to the large urban cities of Madrid and Barcelona to the agricultural heartland of Almeria province in Andalucia to small towns and villages across Spain.   They work as labourers on building sites, on the plastico vegetable and fruit plants that feed northern Europe, as street hawkers, on market stalls, in small family run businesses – all the places where no one asks questions and no one is accountable and where payments are made in cash. 

I have spoken to some of the men and their stories put together briefly go something like this.  There are four ways of getting to Spain from Africa via the Moroccan coast.  The first by boat known as the "death route" where you pay 1000euros to cross the Straits of Gibraltar at 2/3am in the morning.  50 people all crouched down and squashed into a small 9 meter speed boat.  Sometimes the wait for the boat can be for hours and sometimes you may not travel on the designated day.  One you arrive you are literally thrown off the boat before it gets to shore and basically left to fend for yourself.  If you are lucky the traffickers contact in Spain will meet the boat and help you get to a safe house.  Alternatively you may be picked up by Cruz Roja – the Spanish Red Cross and taken to a kind of holding center whilst you are medically examined and provided with food.  Or you could just be left to find your way.  Whatever happens you are very soon on your own but the people I spoke to all said it was not to difficult to find fellow immigrants and of course most people have a phone number to call.

The second way is by lorry from Tanger where again you are crouched in darkness in a small space between whatever load is being carried.  This costs 3000 euros.  The wait again can be for hours in the hot sun and there is a danger of suffocation from the heat and lack of air.  Then there is the 3 hour ferry ride across the Straits and another 3 hour wait on arrival in Spain whilst immigration and customs do their job.   Money passes hands between the traffickers, the Moroccan and the Spanish authorities.  Everyone knows what is happening.

  The third and fourth ways ae probably the safest but take the longest, are complicated and costs the most.  8000 euros buys you a bona fida work contract.  If you  have a friend or relative who is already in Spain, he or she will make contact with a trafficker who arranges the whole deal.  The final way also requires a friend or contact in Spain and involves using false papers on a number of levels.   Once you have a contact in Spain say either a friend or relative they arrange through a trafficker to send you their papers.   Once you receive these you change the photo (the papers are not sophisticated) and the trafficker forges the exit stamp on the papers.  You then enter Spain with the trafficker who delivers you to your friend or relative.  The problem with this one is that on delivery the trafficker may ask for more money than initially agreed and threaten to report your relative to the police.   Also the this method is somewhat easier for Moroccans and Algerians than for Africans coming from further south. 

Those who received the amnesty over the past three months would most likely  have come in one of these ways.  Over the next few months I hope to do some more work on this and talk about what life is like once here.

Spain’s human rights record 2004 Report

Guardian Report – 9th May 05