Friday, June 23, 2006

Thousands reach 'Fortress Europe' each year

Thousands of Africans try to reach Europe's southern shores each year, crossing the sea in rickety boats. Human rights groups say thousands have died trying. Here are some key facts on immigration from Africa:

Why do people leave?

Africa's population is rising sharply and economic growth has not kept pace. From a population of 221 million in 1950, there are now around 800 million, or 13.5 per cent of the total world population.

In 2001, around 46 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa's people lived on less than a dollar a day. Africa is also grappling with environmental degradation, diseases like HIV/AIDS, conflict and famine. In sub-Saharan Africa, 44 per cent of the population is aged under 15.


More than 9,500 immigrants arrived in the Canaries by boat this year, double the number from last year. Malta and Italy face similar problems.

The co-ordinated attempts to enter Ceuta and Melilla last year indicate mounting pressure on Morocco. At least 11 migrants were killed trying to storm the razor-wire fences around the outposts last October.

The Red Cross recently estimated that more than 1,000 African migrants have died since the start of this year trying to break into "Fortress Europe" by ever longer sea routes.

Eurostat, the EU statistics office, has said the EU population rose by 2.3 million in 2004, 1.9 million of these were immigrants.

About 10 per cent of the Dutch population of 16 million is defined as having "non-Western" roots, 1 million of them Muslims, mostly from Turkey and Morocco. Among the young in the big cities such as Rotterdam, immigrants are in the majority.

The United Nations has said that Europe hosted 34 per cent of all migrants in 2005, North America 23 per cent and Asia 28 per cent. Only 9 per cent were living in Africa, 3 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 3 per cent in Oceania.

What is being done?

Spain called earlier this month for a common EU immigration policy and more resources.

The EU's border agency pledged 2.1 million euros (US$2.64 million) to help co-ordinate EU help to the Canaries and Malta. The money will help organize the EU's first joint sea patrol mission, aimed at stopping migrants reaching the Canary Islands.

France and Morocco have agreed measures to curb illegal migration to Europe, including offering financial support to stop Africans emigrants sailing to the Canary Islands.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Third Trans-Sahara festival in Morocco

The 3rd Trans-Sahara film festival will raise curtains on June 21 in the southern city of Zagora.

The four day festival which will last till June 24 is not a competition event, but offers a bouquet of international movies that revolve around the theme of Sahara.

Local movie-goers can savor open-air screenings of movies from various countries, notably india`s "Paheli", China`s "Sky and Earth Warriors", Morocco`s "La Symphonie Marocaine" (Moroccan Symphony) or the USA`s "Sahara".

The festival will organize a conference, on June 23, themed "Cinema between the East and Orientalism" and hold training workshops to initiate the region youth to the various cinema industry techniques. This edition will pay tribute to the Moroccan movie-maker, Saad Chraibi for his commendable efforts to promote Moroccan Cinema.

Morocco bars protest by detainees' kin

The Moroccan security authorities have prevented families of detainees of al-Salafiya al-Jihadiya group from organising a sit-in in front of the headquarters of the Moroccan justice ministry in Rabat.

The families were planning to submit a letter of complaint to the justice minister to draw his attention to what they said was the miserable condition of prisoners at the Sala detention centre who have been on hunger strike for three weeks now.

Aljazeera's correspondent in Morocco, Hasan al-Fatih, was beaten up by Moroccan security forces when Aljazeera's TV crew tried to prevent them from smashing their camera in a bid to stop them from reporting on the protest.

Speaking from Rabat on Thursday, al-Fatih said: "We were covering a sit-in organised by families of detainees of al-Salafiya al-Jihadiya group in front of the headquarters of the Moroccan justice ministry.

"At first, the Moroccan security authorities asked us to leave the area without assigning any reason.

"When we insisted on filming the protest, some security personnel intervened, particularly the support forces, which troubled us a lot."

Al-Fatih said: "One member of the general information force tried to smash an Aljazeera camera but we prevented him from doing so. Other members of the force responded to our action in a violent manner, and I was beaten on the neck and my shirt was torn. I am still in pain from the bruises on my neck."

He said other security officers then intervened to disperse the general information personnel who had prevented us from covering the protest.

Earlier, agencies reported that Moroccan police rounded up 88 members of the country's main Islamic opposition as part of a crackdown to limit the unauthorised movement's influence.

Group members on Wednesday said security forces arrested more than 500 members of Al Adl wa al Ihsane (Justice and Charity) since late May after it launched an "open doors" campaign to recruit outside traditional areas such as mosques and universities.

Some were beaten and nearly all were quickly released.

Fathallah Arslane, Al Adl's spokesman, told Reuters that 45 group activists were arrested in the town of Bouarfa in northeast Morocco on Tuesday night before being set free in the early hours of the morning.

He said 43 Al Adl members were rounded up earlier in Oujda and Nador, also in the northeast, among them the group's second-in-command, Mohamed Abadi.

All but one were released, although Abadi and two others must face prosecutors at the end of the month.

Mohamed Darif, an Islamism specialist at Hassan II Uuniversity in Mohammedia near Casablanca, said: "The authorities want to limit the group's activities, not destroy it."

For his part, Arslane says: "The authorities want to muzzle us."

Al Adl's founder, Abdessalam Yassine, was under house arrest for almost 10 years until 2000 for challenging the monarchy's powers, including the king's status as Commander of the Faithful - the spiritual leader of the country's Muslim community.

The group, is Morocco's biggest opposition force with about 250,000 members.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Over 2.5 million expatriates expected this summer in Morocco

Spanish authorities expect 2.7 million Moroccan expatriates living in Europe and some 700.000 cars to cross their country and the Strait of Gibraltar on their way to native country, Morocco, for summer holidays.

Supervised by both countries' authorities, this year's Transit Operation started on June 15 and will last till September.

Moroccan expatriates' remittances for the first quarter of 2006 jumped 13.8% more than last year's, according to figures released by the Office des Changes.

The remittances, which amounted MAD 13.7Bn, over USD 1.5Bn, represent a rise of 28.8% in comparison to the average revenues of Q1 of the past five years, said the Office.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Tiny skull authenticated as human in Morocco

Scientists have authenticated the tiny skull discovered last July by a young amateur palaeontologist close to the town of Erfoud (South East) in a site known for its Orthoceras and Goniatite fossils.

Dr Alaoui Abdelkader, radiologist and Director of Moulay Ali Cherif Hospital, affirmed that the skull is authentic in regards to the results of the x-ray scanning performed.

The apple sized skull was discovered in a Devonian site. This fact gives an idea of its age, which could date back to 3.6 million years.

Dr Alaoui said that the results are fascinating and that he was very surprised because of the skull's biologic plasticity. He affirmed that the scanner findings on the density of the skull conform to bone density values.

He said that the skull could still hold surprises, referring to possible brain fossilization. The scanner results, revealing a particular shape and a very weak density, could reveal a fossilized brain instead of a natural matter mould.

Mohamed Zarouit said, when announcing his discovery, that the characteristics of the fossilized skull show that it is of the Homo kind.

Engineer Eddahby Lhou, researcher in applied geology, said that a strategic and topographic study of the site; in addition to a detailed survey of the fauna, which used to live around, will be announced shortly.

Eddahby, also a member of the Applied Geology Research Group (GRGA) in Errachidia School of Technical Science, insisted on the need of linking the skull study with the ongoing excavations in Sijilmassa, 20 km of Erfoud

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Guantanamo's First Suicides Pressure U.S.

Three prisoners, all held without charges, are found hanging in their cells. Human rights advocates urge an immediate shutdown.

Three Middle Eastern detainees being held without charges at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay hanged themselves, military officials said Saturday, becoming the first captives to take their own lives at the prison and prompting new calls for an immediate shutdown.

The Defense Department said Saturday that the men — two from Saudi Arabia and one from Yemen — were found in their cells and had left suicide notes. By taking their own lives, the prisoners confounded strenuous measures by military officials to prevent suicides. And the deaths come as the Bush administration battles growing international criticism of its detention procedures and faces a potentially fateful Supreme Court decision this month.

The military did not name the prisoners and released few details about the men, but said at least two were believed to have been members of international terrorist organizations and the third part of a Taliban uprising.

All three had been on hunger strikes and all had been force-fed, a process that frequently involves the use of nasal tubes and restraints.

"These are men who had gone on a hunger strike together," said Navy Rear Adm. Harry Harris, commander of the prison network. "The methods of hanging themselves were similar. I believe this was a coordinated attempt."

He called the three "committed jihadists" who died in acts of "asymmetrical warfare" — the term commonly used by U.S. military officials to describe tactics used by insurgents who face a militarily superior U.S. force in combat.

Army Gen. John Craddock, leader of U.S. Southern Command, said the men were not among detainees seeking U.S. court reviews of their cases and had not appeared before military trial panels. Although the three were not accused of any crimes, Craddock insisted they were enemy combatants and terrorists.

"This is a determined, intelligent and committed element," he said. "They will continue to do everything they can … to become martyrs in the jihad."

But as many detainees pass their four-year mark in captivity without formal charges, human rights activists and defense attorneys said the prisoners have grown despondent over being detained without charges and without imminent prospects of a court hearing.

"People have been indefinitely detained for five years without any prospect of ever going home, or ever seeing their families, or ever being charged, or having any resolution," said Jumana Musa, an advocacy director for Amnesty International in Washington. "There is no question serious psychological trauma comes from that."

Previously, military officials said there had been 41 suicide attempts at Guantanamo this year, including three last month by detainees who tried to take their lives by overdosing on hoarded medication. The Pentagon noted that a single detainee was responsible for at least a dozen of the suicide attempts.

But there have been many other attempts by Guantanamo detainees to hang or otherwise harm themselves since prisoners were sent there beginning in 2002 — 23 attempted a mass hanging in 2003.

Last year, as many as 131 prisoners engaged in hunger strikes, and a similar protest this year involved 89 detainees, prison officials said. There are currently eight detainees on a hunger strike, Harris said.

Only 10 of the approximately 460 men in custody at Guantanamo have been charged with crimes for their alleged involvement in terrorist activity.

Meanwhile, recurring allegations of interrogation abuses and the trial system have spurred global condemnation. The United Nations Committee Against Torture called on the Bush administration last month to shut down the prison, and the European Parliament this year urged that the prison be closed and detainees be given trials without delay.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called for shutting down the prison, and top officials in Britain, Germany and elsewhere have expressed concern to U.S. counterparts and called for drastic changes.

Katherine Newell Bierman, a counterterrorism counsel for Human Rights Watch, said the suicide attempts are likely to continue if the U.S. does not move to give the detainees a fair trial.

"It is only going to get worse," she said. "They need to close it, and they need to close it responsibly. You need to prosecute the people who may have committed crimes, and the rest of them need to be sent home and need an apology."

President Bush, spending the day at Camp David, was told of the suicides at 7:45 a.m. by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Later, he was briefed about the incident by Stephen Hadley, his national security advisor, and Joshua Bolton, his chief of staff. Bush expressed serious concern and pressed to ensure the military was conducting an investigation, said Christie Parell, a White House spokeswoman.

This is an exert from a piece that appeared in today's L.A TIMES

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Foreign Minister in Russia for Weapons Deal

Morocco's Foreign Minister Mohamed Benaissa is in Moscow for a two day visit. The highlights of Benaissa’s meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov will be stepping up military and technical cooperation. According to analysts, Rabat may need Russian weapons to pre-emt further separatist pretension in Morocco-controlled Western Sahara and to solve the conflict there for its own benefit.

The official agenda of today’s meeting of Lavrov and Benaissa sets forward discussing the joint fight against terrorism, situation in the Middle East, Iraq and Iran and settlement in the Western Sahara. The informal highlight, however, could be widening military and technical cooperation between Moscow and Rabat. The Moroccan delegation is likely to negotiate with Russia’s weapons exporter, Rosoboronexport, large weapon contracts.

The sources say one of Benaissa's concerns in Moscow is to check on advancement in military contracts worth nearly $250 million, which were concluded in January 2005. The key point in the contracts is delivery of 12 Tunguska-M1 missile and gun complexes. The first consignment of six Tunguska-M1s was supplied last year and Benaissa could be willing to supervise the delivery of the remaining complexes.

Another concern for Benaissa could be the agreement on the purchase of a wide range of armaments, including up to 50 missile launchers and 1,000 missiles of 9K115-2 Metis-M anti tank systems, spares and armaments for T-72 tanks, BTR-90 and BMP-3 combat vehicles and up to a hundred of military KamAZ trucks.

Benaissa apparently also intends to start talks about the purchase of up to 20 Mi-35 and Mi-17 helicopters, a few high-speed motor boats and amphibious vessels. The contracts for these armaments, which overall budget is estimated to over a $1 billion, could be sealed during Putin's visit to Rabat next September.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

UN Population Commission issues report on migration

The Population Commission of the United Nations concluded its session with a five-page report on international migration and immigration issues. The resolution (document E/CN.9/2007/L.5) was unanimously adopted and the report transmitted to the UN Council.

Its mission was to identify appropriate ways and means of maximizing development benefits and minimizing negative impacts of the migration of workers between countries, especially focusing on the skilled workers of developing nations seeking work in western economies. This has been an on-going theme for several years, with this Commission report reiterating many points to be taken up formally later this year.

It is requested of States that they protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants, regardless of their immigration status. The responsibility of Governments to safeguard the rights of migrants against illegal or violent acts is reaffirmed and emphasized. All States are urged to "devise, enforce and strengthen effective measures to eliminate all forms of trafficking in persons, counter the demand for trafficked victims and protect the victims." Strongly noted also is the need to promote cooperation and address the ongoing challenge of undocumented immigration and other less than legal migration.

The option of remaining in one's own country viable for all people is considered another important topic and member States are urged to aggressively take action on this issue. In particular, action and legislation needs to support and facilitate family reunification.
José Antonio Ocampo, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, specifically noted in closing statements that countries of origin and destination should pursue measures to facilitate the contribution of migrants and migrant communities to the development of their origin countries. Measures to reinforce the positive contributions of migrant women make to development are also important to adopt.

Consideration of how the migration of highly skilled persons and those with advanced education impacts the development efforts of developing countries must be undertaken. Action by member States is required to ensure these countries remain viable.

Additionally, there is a "need to promote conditions for cheaper, faster and safer transfers of remittances, in both source and recipient countries."

Austria's representative, Hannah Liko on behalf of the European Union, notes that, "while the resolution covered a number of important issues, it had missed a deeper analysis of the root causes of migration."

"Well managed migration could bring benefits to sending and receiving countries and contribute to the Millennium Development Goals." She reaffirmed the Union's commitment to the Cairo Programme of Action.

Much of the Population Commissions works is an extension of the United Nations Protocol Against Smuggling of Migrants, which entered into force on 28 January, 2004. Core provisions of that Protocol are :

- the criminalization of the smuggling of migrants and those who practise it

- recognizing that illegal migration itself is not a crime

- recognizing that migrants are often victims needing protection
Under the Protocol :

- governments agree to make migrant smuggling a criminal offence under national laws

- adopt special measures to crack down on migrant smuggling

- boost international cooperation to prevent migrant smuggling

- seek out and prosecute offenders

- States party to the Protocol agree to adopt domestic laws to prevent and suppress activities related to the smuggling of migrants

In an article published in The Wall Street Journal this week, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan showcased what he saw as general benefits of worker migration, referring to them as "the motors of human progress." He argued that incoming migrants do essential jobs, which a country's established residents are reluctant to undertake.

"Yes, migration can have its downside," the UN secretary general wrote, "though ironically some of the worst effects arise from efforts to control it: It is irregular or undocumented migrants who are most vulnerable to smugglers, traffickers and other forms of exploitation."

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Mass tourism threat to Morocco?

The advent of no-frills flights to Morocco could spoil the very thing that draws visitors to the country, an environmental group said this week. Justin Francis, co-founder of Responsible Travel, a leading promoter of eco-tourism, said the Moroccan government was expanding its tourist industry without regard for traditional attractions.

"There is something unique about Morocco - it may be only a three-hour flight from Britain but in social and cultural terms it is radically different. The introduction of hordes of tourists and new hotels, without considering local sensibilities, will lead to over-crowding, over-development and a clash of cultures," he said.

Morocco is the latest battleground for no-frills carriers, with several airlines launching flights to the north African country this year.

Last week Ryanair announced that it had agreed to fly 20 routes from Europe over the next five years, carrying up to a million passengers a year. Its routes from Frankfurt and Marseille to Fès, Marrakesh and Oujda open for business in October.

EasyJet will begin flights in July from Gatwick to Marrakesh, with one-way fares starting at £30.99, including taxes. Thomsonfly will launch a route from Luton to Marrakesh in October; Atlas Blue has already begun flights to Marrakesh from Gatwick; and another budget carrier, Jet4You, is to begin services from Britain later this year.

The influx of no-frills airlines is part of the Moroccan government's ambitious "Vision 2010" strategy, which aims to raise the annual number of tourists to 10 million in the next four years and see the country compete with the Mediterreanean's most popular destinations.

Some 2.5 million people visited Morocco last year, a 20 per cent rise on 2004. The majority headed to Marrakesh, the "Pink City", with its markets, riads, souks and winding streets. Among the country's many other attractions are the snow-capped Atlas mountains, the Mediterranean coastline and the cities of Agadir, Tangier, Fès and Casablanca.

"There have been painful lessons learnt in the short- break market in Europe," Mr Francis said. "Cities such as Prague, which saw a sharp rise in tourists after no-frills flights began, are now ruing the influx of stag parties.

"Marrakesh will be less able to deal with such crowds, and it would be a shame if we were to see mass-market resorts opening up."

But those fears are already being realised with the development of "Plan Azur" - six Mediterranean resorts to be built along Morocco's coastline by 2010.

According to the Oxford Business Group (OBG), a leading publisher of economic and political intelligence on the emerging markets of North Africa, more than 200 other tourism and residential projects have been started over the past two years.

A spokeswoman for CV Travel, which offers breaks in luxury villas and hotels off the beaten track in Morocco, said the benefits to the economy should not be dismisssed.

"There are advantages and disadvantages to these plans. The tourism office is desperate to increase the number of tourists to create new jobs and greatly benefit the economy."

But Mr Francis questions whether much of the money made from these new developments will remain in the local community.

Last month UAE-based companies announced $19billion (£10 billion) of investment in tourism and infrastructure projects in Morocco over the next three years.

In an attempt to deal with the expected influx, the government is expanding Marrakesh airport, building a larger train station and improving roads in and around the city.

But with all these new developments there are fears that a water crisis might be on the way.

"The increase in arrivals and the numerous tourism and residential development projects - which usually encompass lush gardens and a flurry of swimming pools - are putting local water resources under serious stress," said a recent report by the OBG.

It added that if new developments are not controlled they may undermine Marrakesh's traditional appeal.

"The city's main selling arguments have long been its picturesque quality and tradition - two aspects that might be put in jeopardy if the building goes on without check," the report added.

Friday, June 02, 2006

A voyage into death

They left Africa on Christmas Eve seeking a better life in Europe. Instead, the immigrants' rusty boat drifted and carried them to their deaths as it crossed the Atlantic Ocean and wound up near the Caribbean islands of Barbados.

By the time a fisherman found the boat on April 30, the bodies of 11 young men were virtually mummified by the sun and salt spray. One had written a farewell note to his family in Senegal before dying.

"I would like to send ... a sum of money. Please excuse me and good-bye" said the note, tucked between bodies.

With transit routes to Europe through Morocco becoming gradually sealed, immigrants are taking to the seas farther down the coast of northwest Africa, some traveling in overcrowded fishing boats more than 1,000 miles in stages to reach Europe.

The boats often get lost or break down, drifting helplessly in the Atlantic or capsizing in rough seas.

Typically, canoe-shaped boats built to carry six to eight people on a fishing trip are crammed with dozens of people and supplies for the voyage north.

The boat found off the coast of Barbados apparently left Senegal on Africa's west coast with 52 people aboard, Barbados Attorney General Dale Marshall said Wednesday.

"This is the end of my life in this big Moroccan sea," the disoriented passenger wrote.

His boat was not off the coast of Morocco -- it had drifted more than 2,000 miles west to Barbados.

The white, 20-foot boat, streaked with rust and capped by a small wheelhouse, was apparently bound for Spain's Canary Islands, a gateway to Europe located in the Atlantic about 200 miles off Morocco's southern coast. Spanish authorities have launched two investigations, police said.

It's unclear where many of the passengers were from, though officials presume they were Senegalese, Marshall said. Police found currency in euros, a travel itinerary and an airline ticket from Senegal Airways in the boat.

Morocco detains 102 trying to cross to Europe

Moroccan authorities have detained 102 people, including 12 women and four children, trying to cross into Europe illegally, state news agency MAP reported on Friday, quoting police.

The arrests of 68 sub-Saharan Africans and 34 Moroccans were made late on Thursday in the northern coastal region of Nador.

That brought to at least 5,600 the number of people arrested in Morocco in the first six months of this year attempting to reach Spain, according to official figures.

The total is a fraction of the approximately 30,000 arrests during the same period last year. Analysts attribute the drop to Rabat's crackdown on illegal migration.

Morocco deployed thousands more soldiers and police to shut illegal migrant gates into Spain from its Mediterranean and Atlantic shores, prompting would-be migrants to seek illegal entries down the coast of West Africa off Mauritania and Senegal.