Two recent stories dramatically illustrate Europe’s looming immigration problem.
One concerns a gang estimated to have smuggled 100,000 illegal immigrants, mainly Turkish Kurds, into Great Britain. These economic migrants paid between £3,000 and £5,000 to be transported via an elaborate and dangerous route. The Independent explains: “Their journeys lasted several weeks and involved safe houses, lorries with secret compartments and, in some cases, clandestine flights to airfields in the South-east.”
A senior British police source commented that “It’s a tortuous journey, full of discomfort and danger, but they are determined to get here, given the particular attraction of London’s established Turkish community.”
Turks are hardly alone in wanting access to Europe; the second story concerns human waves of impoverished sub-Saharan Africans storming and breaching fences to enter two tiny Spanish enclaves on the Mediterranean coast of Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla.
Until recently, these Iberian vestiges of the Crusades appeared to be curious remnants of a bygone age. Now, however, they are (along with the Canary Islands, Lampedusa, and Mayotte) among the European Union’s most isolated and vulnerable entry points, stepping stones feeding illegal immigrants to the whole of the European Union.
Melilla is a town of 60,000 with a six-mile [ten-kilometer] border with Morocco, protected by Spanish Legion and Moroccan civil guard units, high fences bristling with razors, and the latest anti-personnel technology (sensor pads, movement detectors, spotlights, infrared cameras).
The typical African migrant travels across the Sahara desert to reach the Mediterranean coast, where he idles nearby until the right moment for a run to Spanish territory. “We were just tired of living in the forest,” explained a young man from Guinea-Bissau. “There was nothing to eat, there was nothing to drink.”
In mid-September, the Africans began assaulting the frontier en masse. Deploying crude ladders made of branches, they used their weight to bring the fences down in places. As one of them put it, “We go in a group and all jump at once. We know that some will get through, that others will be injured and others may die, but we have to get through, whatever the cost.”
The tactic works. When over 1,000 persons tried to enter Melilla at a single go in September, an estimated 300 succeeded. In early October, 650 persons ran for the fence and 350 are said to have made it. “There were just too many of us” to be stopped, observed one Malian. An estimated 30,000 more Africans await their turn.
The confrontation can resemble a pitched battle. The Africans throw rocks at the security forces, which respond with bayonets, shotguns, and rubber bullets. The assaults left about a dozen Africans dead, some trampled in the rush to Spanish territory, others shot by Moroccan police.
Madrid eventually prevailed on Rabat to crack down on the remaining Africans-in-waiting, which obliged by flying some 2,000 of them to their countries of origin and exiling another 1,000 to Morocco’s southern desert, far from the Spanish enclaves. The removal was done with some brutality, dumping the Africans and leaving them to fend off the harsh elements almost without help. But the unwelcome signal was received. “I will go back now,” said another Malian, in tears. “I will not try to come back. I am exhausted.”
Modern communications and transportation increasingly inspire Turks, Africans, and others (such as Mexicans) to leave their native lands, taking extreme risks if necessary, to reach the West’s near-paradise. In response, Europeans are baring their teeth, brushing aside multicultural pieties such as Kofi Annan’s statement that “What is important is that we don’t make a futile attempt to prevent people from crossing borders. It will not work.”
But preventing people from crossing borders is very much on the agenda; it is probably only a matter of time until other Western states follow Spain and Australia and resort to military force.
Giant smuggling rings and human waves cascading over fortified positions represent the starkest manifestations of profound and growing dilemmas: how islands of peace and plenty survive in an ocean of war and deprivation, how a diminishing European population retains its historic culture, and how states from Turkey to Mali to Mexico solve their problems rather than export them.
With no solutions in sight, however, there is every reason to expect these problems to worsen.