Since the early 1980s, European Union Mediterranean
member states--primarily Italy and Spain--have experienced growing migration
pressure from the Maghreb: mainly from Morocco and, as far as Italy is
concerned, also from Tunisia.
During the 1990s, Moroccans became by far the first foreign resident
community both in the Iberian and in the Italian peninsulas. This was a "new
wave" of emigration from the Maghreb, issuing from different areas than the
older flows that affected France, Belgium and the Netherlands in the 1960s
and 1970s. And it was a new emigration stream also in its social
composition: younger, more urban, more educated, and with a growing share of
female first migrants in it.
Since the turn of the century, some signs seem to suggest that direct
migration pressure from the Maghreb to southern Europe has been mitigated.
In the massive regularization program that was implemented by the Italian
center-right government in 2002-2003, Eastern Europeans were largely
predominant. Over a total of around 704,000 applications, the national
communities with the highest regularization rate were Romanians, Ukrainians
and Albanians. Moroccans, with “only” 54,221 applications, lost their
traditional primacy as first immigrant group in the country.
The results of the Italian legalization scheme prove that the trend of
unauthorized immigration from North Africa to Italy is stationary or
slightly decreasing. This is due to a set of distinct causes: on the one
hand, "pull factors" discriminate against Maghreb migrants, i.e., Italian
illegal employers express a clear preference for European workers. But also
"push factors" seem to be declining: the share of undocumented North
Africans among the thousands who are apprehended annually on the Sicilian
island of Lampedusa is low and decreasing. The majority of those who are
smuggled nowadays across the Sicily Channel have transited through the
Maghreb, but originate from Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and the
This relative reduction in direct migration pressure from the Maghreb is
less evident in Spain, where the overall foreigners’ presence tripled in the
last six years. But there also, the deterrent effect of the massive
investment in border controls is starting to show. And in Spain also, the
bilateral labor immigration agreements signed in 2002 with Poland and
Romania, and in October 2003 with Bulgaria, reflect a diffuse preference for
European workers, which is already affecting labor migration dynamics.
The years 2002 and 2003 marked an upsurge of Sub-Saharan (mostly Somalis and
Liberians) and Middle Eastern nationals (predominantly Palestinians and
Iraqis) apprehended upon disembarkation along southern Italian shores. A
similar phenomenon can be observed along Spanish maritime borders and around
the costly and anachronistic enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
After a decade of growing unrest in western Africa and of persisting
instability in the Horn of Africa, and following the substantial progress in
migration law enforcement in Turkey and the Balkans, the Maghreb emerged
during the early 2000s as a key transit region for illegal flows aiming at
the southern part of the EU. Routes are constantly changing and only partly
known: Sudan is a crossroads for East Africans heading for Libyan harbors;
migrants and refugees from the Guinea Gulf cross Mali and Niger and then
either go north towards the Libyan smuggling district around Zuwarah, or
they cut across the Algerian Hoggar region and then turn west, dreaming of
finally landing in the Canary Islands.
Crossing the Sahara is turning into a huge, continental business. The
extreme harshness of the climate and the lack of ordinary transport
infrastructure make crossing the desert a difficult enterprise, which
requires specialized help in loco. The steep increase in the demand
is boosting a quick growth in transport services, catering and hostels for
migrants. Old capitals of cross-Saharan trade, such as Agadez, Tombouctou
and Tamanrasset are experiencing a revival and at times a real boom.
But there is a dark side in all this. As often migrants are unable to pay
for the services they need, they are frequently trapped into forced labor
and sexual exploitation. Along migration routes, corruption circuits are
expanding, thereby undermining the already very poor democratization record
of the region. Old sets of prejudices, suspicions and fears of Arabs against
"black" Africans, and the other way around, threaten to reactivate. The
number of direct victims of this new continental smuggling market is unknown
but certainly thirst, fatigue, illnesses, accidents and bandits kill
Europe is facing all this, and is so far unable to respond consistently. On
the one hand, EU governments and common institutions ask our Mediterranean
partners to do their part in migration law enforcement. Morocco was recently
granted EUR 50 million to upgrade its border control infrastructure. Similar
actions are highly prioritized within the framework of the new EUR 250
million program for financial and technical assistance to third countries in
the field of migration and asylum, approved by the EU Council on February
19, 2004. The need to ensure greater cooperation by the Libyan authorities
against human smuggling was an important factor behind the lobbying that
some European governments and the European Commission carried out in favor
of lifting the UN embargo.
But Europe is not asking itself what such cooperation in the field of
migration control implies. Brussels and the other EU capitals are not
assessing the impact of such cooperation on overall compliance with
international obligations in the field of asylum. They are not ensuring that
Tunisian police or Libyan troops are properly trained to safeguard the
fundamental rights of migrants, such as the EU acquis imposes on
eastern candidates and new member states. The problematic link between
migration control and the rule of law is dismissed. The new migration
conditionality threatens to eclipse an already weak political
These crucial contradictions need to be openly faced and gradually solved,
through dialogue (not only Euro-Mediterranean, but Euro-African as well),
but also through courageous and consistent policy choices. Otherwise, our
Mediterranean partners will resemble more and more some indispensable but
embarrassing gate-keepers, rather than the good and equal neighbors with
whom we wish to share "all but institutions".
18/3/2004 - Dr. Ferruccio Pastore is deputy director of
the Centro Studi di Politica Internazionale (CeSPI) in Rome and coordinator
of its research on international migration/new security issues.
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