A Statue speaks another language

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Thu Jan 11 17:37:38 UTC 2007

A Statue Speaks Another Language

Julio Godoy

PARIS, Jan. 10 (IPS) - Of more than 30,000 African refugees who landed on
the Spanish Canary Islands last year, few had time to see the statue
towering above the small port Garachico. And if they did, few could have
understood what it meant. It is the statue of a man dragging suitcases in
the direction of the Atlantic Ocean. The figure represents the hundreds of
thousands of Spanish who sailed to the Americas during the 20th century to
flee poverty following the bloody Civil War in the late 1930s, and then
the dictatorship between 1939 and 1975. The statue has a hole where the
man's heart should have been, suggesting that the emigrants abandoned
their motherland against their will, that they left their hearts at home.
A feeling that would be familiar to the African refugees who fled poverty
and political violence in their home countries to arrive in Tenerife and
other Canary Islands.

Geography, the changing fortunes of Europe, and the perennial misfortune
of Africans combined to transform the Canary Islands, a Spanish territory
in the middle of the Atlantic, in less than a century from an emigration
port into a destination for immigrants and refugees. Situated some 1,300
km southwest of the Spanish and Portuguese mainland, Canary Islands were
once the last harbour for South European emigrants leaving in search of a
better future in Latin America. But the archipelago is also located only
some 100 km from the nearest West African coast; it is within sailing
distance for desperate African refugees ready to risk their lives on
makeshift boats to reach European soil.

According to official figures, 30,058 African refugees -- they have been
called boat people like the Vietnamese refugees of the 1970s -- landed in
the Canary Islands last year. That flow looks set to continue in 2007.
That means among other things, a growing challenge for the European Union.
In December, the heads of state and government of then 25 EU member
countries agreed in Brussels to a new common immigration policy, to be
developed by June 2007. But many European leaders continue to oppose a
common policy that could encourage legal immigration into the EU, and
press instead for a tightening of border controls.

French minister for the interior and presidential candidate Nicolas
Sarkozy is at the head of a move against further migration. Last year he
repeatedly called immigration "a threat" for France. Arguing in support of
his new immigration law in the French parliament in May, Sarkozy said "we
do not want to continue suffering immigration, we want to choose
immigrants." Under a new Act passed in June, France will now choose
immigrants according to their qualifications. Sarkozy has also refused to
legalise the large number of refugees settled in France for many years,
and has re-launched massive expulsions instead.  He also criticises the
massive recent legalisation of immigrants in Italy, Spain, and more
recently, Germany.

In his campaign now Sarkozy has said that under his government France
would continue to tighten controls against immigration, in the face of
expert advice suggesting that such controls only encourage illegal
immigration. Sarkozy's main opponent, Socialist nominee Sgolne Royal says
that only a coherent European development policy for Africa can stop the
flow of refugees into Europe. "We cannot dissociate immigration from
development," she said during a television debate last November. "It is
only by improving the chances of African people to enjoy a dignifying life
in their countries of origin that Europe will effectively curb illegal

Royal and the Socialist Party also oppose the law of chosen immigration
passed by Sarkozy, arguing that it encourages brain drain from the
developing world. The Socialists say they will cancel the law if they win
the presidential and parliamentary elections. Many European experts see
immigration as necessary both for developing countries and for Europe. "In
many countries such as India, Morocco or Brazil, the number of new
university graduates is by far higher than the corresponding needs of
their local labour markets," Catherine Withol de Wenden, expert on
immigration at the French National Research Centre told IPS. "Therefore,
emigration of good educated young people from the South towards the North
does not necessarily represent a brain drain."

In addition, Withol de Wenden said, "immigrants send money back to their
countries of origin, helping their relatives to pay for their lives, and
so stimulating local demand. Immigration is also a valve that helps
liberating social tensions in the countries of the South, which otherwise
could lead to conflicts in the migrants' home societies." Other experts
insist that Europe needs immigrants for economic and for demographic
reasons. "According to most demographic scenarios, immigration shall be
the largest source of population growth in France and Europe by 2050,"
Francois Heran, director of the French Institute for Demographic Studies
told IPS.

Demographic forecasts suggest that as European societies get older in
decades ahead, the number of elderly pensioners will increase dramatically
in relation to young people active in the labour market. "Even if the
French birth rate is larger than most others in Europe, given the expected
trends in the age pyramid in France and in Europe, immigration would be
the only way of countering the greying of our European societies," Hran
said. Fears associated with immigration are unfounded, he said. "The
French government legalised 6,000 immigrants in 2006, against a total
population of well over 61 million people. This number represents one
immigrant for every 10,000 French citizens. In statistical terms, this
means zero."  (FIN/2007)



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