European Union border agency successfully cuts the number of illegal immigrants coming from Africa
The number of migrants coming to the Spanish Canary Islands has halved compared to this time last year following tightened naval patrols, EU authorities announced on Thursday (12 April.)
Boat-born migrants arriving on the Canary Islands dropped by 60 percent in the first three months of this year to 1,525 from 3,914 during the same period last year, Reuters reported a Canaries government representative as saying.
The EU's new border agency, Frontex, is being credited with the drop in figures.
In February, it started an ocean patrol operation called 'Hera III' under which a total of 1,167 would-be migrants have been diverted back to the West African coast.
"As our risk analysis shows, the migration flow towards the Canary Islands will remain one of the most-used routes of illegal migration to the European Union," said Frontex head Ilkka Laitinen, according to AFP.
"Therefore this route will stay in our focus and sequels of Hera III will be launched throughout the year," he said.
Frontex, which has been up and running since October 2005 and launched its first sea patrols last August, says the aim of operations like Hera III is "to stop migrants from leaving the shores on the long sea journey and thus reduce the danger of losses of human lives."
African migrants look to the Canary Islands as the first point of access to the European Union with thousands in recent years trying to make the perilous journey across the open sea to reach the point where they think they can have a chance of a better life.
In the second half of 2006, an average of 3000 a month were arriving on the islands and countless more perished on the way.
Last year was seen as a crisis point on the immigration issue for the EU, with Spain, Italy and island Malta - as the southern most points of the bloc - regularly bringing the matter up at the highest political level in the EU saying they could not cope alone.
However, their calls for help revealed a glaring lack of solidarity between member states with several governments reluctant to help kit out the poorly-equipped Frontex agency with boats and planes.
Job centre in Mali
Brussels has now turned its attention more to the causes of immigration.
"It is the job of the EU to steer the migration into manageable proportions. We will only succeed if we are able to help African nations change economic and social conditions so that no one is forced to leave because of hardship," EU development commissioner Louis Michel told German daily Die Welt in an interview.
He also said the bloc was intending to invest €22 billion in the next six year on anti-poverty measures.
Among these measures is a plan to set up a job centre in Mali which would be a place for setting up legitimate employment opportunities in the building and agricultural sectors in countries like France and Spain but also jobs in other African countries.
Meanwhile, the EU also plans to punish employers who hire illegal immigrants, with proposals on the issue set to be published by the European Commission later this year.
Mr Michel said that he expected that this year's number of African migrants coming to the EU to drop below the 30,000 recorded in 2006.
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