Assistant Comptroller of Immigration,
The approximately 40 developing countries of sub-Saharan African form a diverse group in terms of economic structure, income levels, policies and performance. While some are endowed with large deposits of mineral resources to support their economies, others are doubly disadvantaged by poor resources and landlocked location which raises transport costs. Almost all sub-Saharan African countries are poor, many have low levels of income per head and with grinding poverty among large parts of the population. Another chink in the armour of the sub-Saharan African countries is their predominantly rural character and their low levels of industrial development.
Their exports consist mainly of primary commodities whose prices are vulnerable to changes in the international market. Most of the countries in the region are always afflicted by serious drought with the concomitant dire consequences. Most of the countries are overburdened with overdue loan repayment regimen. In most cases hunger, famine, war, and natural disasters seemed to have triggered waves of migration to the west. Added to this is the fact that unemployment rate in most sub-Saharan African countries has risen astronomically. Young school leavers find it difficult to get paid employment. The only option left for them is to follow the line of least resistance by migrating to Europe to eke out a living.
The EU countries of Spain, Italy and France all have maritime frontiers temptingly nearer poorer countries on the African continent. Immigrants from sub-Saharan African countries are irresistibly lured to Europe. These EU countries have experienced an upsurge in the inflow of African illegal immigrants and over the years, they had pooled their resources to stem the tide. They partnered and networked by enacting more stringent laws. Apart from introducing sound and stricter immigration control measures, they equally provided a flotilla of Naval ships and coast guard vessels to patrol the Mediterranean Sea to track down boats ferrying illegal immigrants. Squadrons of spotter aircraft have equally been provided for aerial patrol and surveillance of the Mediterranean skyline. High-rise observation posts have equally been built at designated coastal points where watchmen with high-powered binoculars will be on the look out for infiltrators.
The EU has discovered that all these measures have not deterred would-be migrants from embarking on the perilous and hazardous trip to Europe. The brass hats at the Brussels EU headquarters have discovered that no number of Spanish, French and Italian warships in the Mediterranean is likely to reverse this natural law-human beings have always wanted to escape poverty, misery, and today, many Africans see Europe as their final destination where they can earn a living.
Cases of dug-out canoes ferrying illegal African immigrants capsizing off the coast of Spain, Italy and France abound these days. In most of the incidents, many occupants of these rickety boats got drowned. These EU countries have equally been shouldering the huge cost of keeping the rescued migrants at the various holding centres. Added to this is the huge repatriation cost equally borne by them.
Recently, the EU opened a job centre in Senegal. Senegal was chosen because it is a take off-point for journeys to the Canary Islands. The job centre offers seasonal contract jobs to Senegalese and other sub-Saharan Africans to work in hotels in Spain and as fruit pickers in orchards in Spain, France and Italy. The number of applicants usually exceeds the openings, as it is now a job lottery.
In October 2008, the EU opened its first immigration centre outside Europe in Mali’s capital, Bamako. The new centre is aimed at helping would-be migrants to find legal work in Europe and reduce illegal migration. The office will offer guidance and counseling on legal migration and help with job training and search for work in Europe. It will also raise awareness about the dangers of illegal migration. This is the best solution ever proffered by the EU in tackling this intractable problem.
With the job centres now in place, would-be migrants will now know that it makes sense for an immigrant to enter Europe through legal channels and not through the back door; so that the rights of the immigrant will be protected at any point in time in his country of domicile. They can equally demand and receive fair pay for their work. This new initiative by the EU will go a long way in stemming the flow of illegal African migrants. It is envisaged that with time, the EU will open new job centres in Nigeria, Ghana, the DRC, Cameroon and other African countries in order not to overstretch the facilities at the Dakar and Bamako job centres. The EU has got it right this time around and coupled with the yearly injection of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into the economies of sub-Saharan African countries, African youths will have an enabling environment to take part in private entrepreneurship, thereby taking them off the perilous and hazardous trans-Atlantic sea journeys to Europe.
• Chapp-Jumbo is an Assistant Comptroller of Immigration Zone C, Yelwa. Bauchi.