Immigration from Africa to Europe is not a new phenomenon. In fact, people of African descent have been living in Europe for centuries, pre-dating the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Yet, as economies worsen throughout the world and the livelihoods of impoverished individuals continue to deteriorate, waves of Africans have migrated to Europe in search of better lives and opportunities. Of all European Union member states, Spain, arguably, has the most liberal immigration policies, allowing thousands of African immigrants into the country each year. That being said, the migration management system Spain has adopted for the many people who make the treacherous journey between Africa and Europe by boat casts doubt on its seemingly lenient immigration policies. These people often find themselves detained or deported after reaching the shores of Spain rather than having repatriation options.
While there is some debate as to the cause of this recent rise in migration, some argue it is the result of turmoil in Northern Africa. Sub-Saharan refugees that hope to avoid indefinite detainment in detention centers in Libya and Senegal flee. Unfortunately, these trips carry high risk. Recently, boats of undocumented immigrants have gone missing or been found with bodies of passengers who died of hunger and thirst during the voyage. Spanish officials have responded by calling for tighter border control and have increased the number of patrol boats they have off their coast. Officials hope these measures will reduce the number of people who go through these extreme measures in getting to Europe, thus decreasing the number of casualties. Unfortunately, this solution simply displaces the casualties as these immigrants often have few other options that are safe or offer economic opportunities.
Organizations like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Rescue Committee and the American Red Cross have initiated programs to assist African immigrants, providing simple aid such as legal representation and advocacy. These organizations have made a big impact, but immigrants and allies have also made their voices heard. In 2011, thousands of people gathered to protest the poor treatment of immigrants. While the numbers of individuals crossing the Spanish border are minuscule compared to other parts of the world, recent reports of immigrants dying on the way to Spain or being detained for months upon their arrival have garnered international attention. Unfortunately, this is not a problem unique to Spain. Countries all over the world face immigration – some of these people are seeking asylum from the atrocities and hardships of their own countries and some are looking for economic opportunity. Luckily, individuals and organizations are fighting for immigrant rights.
by Vedan Anthony-North, Brittany Duck and Natasha Peterson