Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Spain resumes deportation of African illegal immigrants

Diadie Ba:

Spain has secretly deported around 200 Africans to Senegal in the past two weeks as Europe tries to stem the flow of illegal immigrants to its shores without rekindling a row over repatriation to West Africa, a Senegalese official said.

The senior official at the ministry for Senegalese living oversees told Reuters that Spain started sending immigrants to Dakar earlier this month in batches of 50 -- just weeks after Senegal halted a similar operation and accused Spain of mistreating the deportees.

"In total they have repatriated 200 people," said the official, who asked not to be named. "It took place with the utmost discretion."

Officials at Spain's Interior and Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

Spanish newspaper El Pais said Spain, keen to avert another row with African nations over illegal immigrants, transported the Africans on night flights to shield them from the media.

Madrid and Dakar agreed last month to return more than 600 migrants from Spain's Canary Islands, where nearly 9,000 Africans have arrived this year after braving perilous journeys in rickety fishing boats in search of a better life in Europe.

But Senegal suspended the repatriation a day after the accord and said 100 migrants flown to Dakar from the Canaries were mistreated by Spanish authorities, dealing a blow to European efforts to curb illegal immigration.

El Pais said the West Africans were given 300 euros each by Spanish police on arrival in Dakar intended to "help them rebuild their lives".

The immigrants accused Spanish and Senegalese authorities of tricking them and demanded they be reimbursed the 1,200 euros they paid traffickers to take them to the Canaries, the paper said in its English version.

Separately, Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who has led a diplomatic charm offensive to persuade West African nations to help stop illegal immigration to Europe, urged continued vigilance during a visit to Mauritania.

"The situation is better today but we must not let our guard down when faced with this mafia (of traffickers)," he told a news conference. "The European Unions must be a key player in dealing with this phenomenon."

Moratinos met African counterparts on the sidelines of an African Union meeting in Gambia on Tuesday to discuss ways of tackling illegal immigration and to promote an Africa-Europe conference in Rabat next month.

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