Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Morocco route to Europe replaced

For west Africans dreaming of reaching the European "El Dorado", a new "Libyan route" has replaced the once-favored and more direct path through Morocco, after the government stepped up controls to stem this human tide north.

Ibrahim Diarra, a migrant biding time in the north Malian city of Gao, a key transit point for Europe-bound migrants at the edge of the desert, said: "It is practically impossible to go through Morocco anymore. The Moroccan police are very vigilant."

He said: "We don't take the 'direct-direct' path anymore, it's very very difficult", using migrant jargon to explain that the route due north through Morocco was no longer an option.

Morocco, under European pressure, increased surveillance after repeated attempts last year by African migrants to enter the Spanish - and hence European Union - enclaves in Moroccan territory of Ceuta and Melilla.

Illegals flooding towards Italy

Thousands tried to storm this symbolic divide between impoverished Africa and the riches of Europe by scaling razor-wire fencing in some of the worst violence ever at border crossings.

To circumvent the crackdown, a new path was carved out further northeast, through Libya.

From its porous 1 770km coastline, illegal migrants had been flooding towards Malta and Italy, notably the latter's tiny extreme southern island of Lampedusa, south of Sicily.

This alternate route would likely be a focus at a ministerial conference in the Libyan capital on Wednesday and Thursday, where the EU and African ministers would discuss immigration and development.

13 500 illegals intercepted

Humanitarian groups said at least 150 000 Africans were still waiting - often in dire conditions - in Mali, Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco and Nigeria to try to reach Europe.

In the meantime, official figures confirmed the receding tide in Morocco.

Earlier this month, authorities said they had intercepted 13 500 illegal immigrants in the first 10 months of 2006, 51% less than the same period last year.

Among these, nearly half - 5 930 - were Moroccan and 7 570 were foreigners mainly from sub-Saharan Africa. Today, Gao still remained a starting point for Europe.

A Gao police detective who asked not to be named said: "When the illegals arrive in Gao, they are piled into houses collectively called 'ghettos'."

He said: "On the day they depart, they head toward the Malian destination 'In Hallil', which is not far from Borj, at the Algerian border", calling this the "first path" across the desert.

The detective added: "According to our sources, at 'In Hallil' today you will find several thousand Africans who are waiting to carry on their journey. There are more of them than local residents."

1 Comments:

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10:25 PM, December 13, 2006  

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