I have followed the immigration problems in the Spanish territories of Ceuta, Melilla, and the Canary Islands, all easy of access to Africans; time to catch up now with the situation on comes the islands of Malta, 60 miles south of Sicily and 200 miles north of Libya. In "An Island Engulfed by Migrants: Tiny Malta Struggles to Absorb Boatloads of Desperate Africans," Mary Jordan of the Washington Post gives a glimpse of the brewing crisis on an island country of 400,000 with a long and quite isolated history. According to her, the Maltese, an overwhelmingly white, Catholic nation are reacting with anything but warmth to the 5,000 or so black, indigent, mostly Muslim Africans who have arrived in the past four years, nearly all of whom were aiming for Italy but whose flimsy boats did not make it.
- Jesmond Saliba, 34, a horse-drawn taxi driver: "We don't have enough jobs for them, and it means more taxes for us. This island is too small for them."
- Katrine Camilleri, a lawyer with the Jesuit Refugee Service. "There is a feeling of 'My God, we are being invaded!' It's becoming more and more acceptable for people to openly say, 'We don't want them.'"
- Martin Degiorgio, a leader of the Republican National Alliance, an anti-immigrant group formed last year. "We don't want a multicultural society. Haven't you seen the problems it has brought to France and Britain? We have never had minorities, and we don't want minorities."
- Charlie Bezzina, 47, selling beer near the opera house steps: "We need to get extra patrol boats and send them back."
- Ruth Spiteri, a mother of three: "They don't like the food we give them. They are aggressive with soldiers. They bring different diseases."
The Africans, Jordan reports, respond as the Maltese would want them to – by calling Malta "midway to nowhere" and deciding to leave. She quotes Ihaps Norain, 28, a Sudanese man whose boat ran out of gas, forcing him to land in Malta instead of Italy: "You can't imagine how difficult I find it here. I don't want to be here, and I know people here don't want me." Showing a visitor the center where he lives with 560 other people, mostly Africans, he says: "I ask myself, 'Why did I risk my life for this?' I see the way they look at me on the bus. Some people make you feel so sad."
Yet this is just the beginning of the story. More than a million sub-Saharan Africans are said to have gathered in Libya, hoping to cross the Mediterranean Sea. (June 4, 2006)
May 1, 2007 update: Other Mediterranean Sea islands are also becoming targets, reports Hubert Kahl for Deutsche Presse Agentur in "Illegal African immigrants now target Majorca."
Sightings of boats off the Canary Islands' coasts with dozens of African refugees aboard are now an everyday occurrence. The influx has dropped noticeably in the past months after Spain stepped up its coastal supervision and quickly deported immigrants back to their countries of origin. But the influx has not ground to a halt as 31,000 "illegals" arrived last year in the Canary Islands.
The phenomenon of illegal migration per boat was until recently almost unknown in Majorca and the other Balearic Islands. The first ship with refugees arrived in Menorca in autumn 2006. Since then, three more boats have reached the bigger, neighbouring island of Majorca, which is only 300 kilometres from North Africa. By contrast, refugees who set sail from West Africa often travel more than 1,000 kilometres across the Atlantic waters to the Canary Islands. Despite the shorter distance, Majorca is less likely to be hit by an influx similar to that in the Canary Islands, because Spain has repatriation agreements with Morocco and Algeria. West Africans who arrive in the Canary Islands can hope for exceptional leave to remain in Spain as it is often almost impossible to deport them.
May 31, 2007 update: The Washington Post reveals today the hair-raising story of large numbers of desperate Somalis risking all to flee their country for Yemen. According to the article, at least 8,000 have already arrived in 2007, adding to the 100,000 to 800,000 Somalis resident in Yemen, which "has emerged as the way station from East Africa to Saudi Arabia, other wealthy Persian Gulf states and occasionally Europe." Feb. 28, 2008 update: More details on Somalis taking desperate steps to reach Yemen, this time from Reuters. It offers lower numbers: "Nearly 30,000 Somalis and Ethiopians came ashore in Yemen last year. About 700 bodies washed up, some gnawed by sharks, and another 700 people went missing." It also notes that the in-flow began with the overthrow of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Some excerpts:
- "At least 37 Somalis were drowned off Yemen on Feb. 20 when the captain of their vessel ordered them to swim ashore, the Yemeni news agency Saba reported. About 70 were rescued."
- "Smugglers stuff people onto small boats like sardines," said Samer Haddadin, a UNHCR protection officer. "They spend two or three days like that and arrive with skin problems because they have to urinate where they sit. There is no way to move."
- About one-third of the Somali refugees end up at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees-run Kharaz camp. "Kharaz, on a desolate wind-scoured plain where summer heat soars near 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit), shelters 9,500 refugees in cinderblock huts. There are schools, clinics and food rations, but no jobs. … Refugees in Kharaz are marooned in futility, unable to go back to their insecure homelands or to find work in Yemen."
- "The Basateen slum—which resembles a miniature Mogadishu minus the gunmen—is more squalid, but Somalis there are less isolated and can at least seek casual work in Aden. "I couldn't stand camp life," said a woman in a black scarf with orange flowers who gave her name as Fawzia. The 23-year-old has seven children and a runaway husband. She survives on casual domestic work, but has failed to pay her rent for six months. "I hate myself, I hate my children, I have no future," she said vacantly. Beside her, a baby lay untended in its own vomit on the grubby blue carpet of her trash-filled shack."
Nov. 29, 2010 update: Muammar Qaddafi has demanded during an EU-Africa summit a cool €5 billion: "In order to stop illegal immigration, something significant must be done, otherwise an entire continent will pour into Europe. If Europe gives us 5 billion euros, Libya will be able to stem the flow."
Dec. 27, 2010 update: Further on the Ethiopian emigration to Yemen today at "Africans brave dangerous water crossing to Yemen, in hopes of a better life."
Sep. 22, 2012 update: With over 16,000 illegal migrants, Malta suffers from the highest per-capita influx of any European Union member; and the migrants are rotting in government-run centers. For details, see Suzanne Daley, "A Tiny Mediterranean Nation, Awash in Immigrants With Nowhere to Go."
Mar. 31, 2013 update: The past three weeks have seen 10,000 illegal immigrants attempt to enter just one Saudi province, Asir, in the past three weeks. Most of them, unsurprisingly, are either Yemenis or Africans.
Lampedusa, which lies just 80 miles (120km) off Tunisia the Tunisian coast. It has an Italian population of 6,000 and larger number of illegal immigrants. On Lampedusa, in memory of the many people who drowned attempting to reach Europe, the pope threw a wreath of flowers into the sea and presided over an open-air Mass for migrants in a small, painted boat. He condemned the "global indifference" to their plight, called for a "reawakening of consciences" to counter the "indifference" shown to migrants, and stated that "We have lost a sense of brotherly responsibility" and "have forgotten how to cry" for migrants lost at sea.
Coincidentally, just before the Pope's plane touched down, a small boat carrying 166 Africans landed at Lampedusa's port.