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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 July 2006, 15:12 GMT 16:12 UK
Migrants' scant hopes for summit
By Alix Kroeger
BBC News, Rabat

Two would-be illegal immigrants after arriving in an open wooden fishing boat in Tenerife
Thousands of Africans are risking their lives to reach Europe
In a church basement in Rabat, about 60 migrants from across sub-Saharan Africa are watching the World Cup final, a match between two European sides.

Most of the migrants are supporting France, a dissident few are cheering for Italy.

For most of them, this is as close to Europe as they will ever get.

Pastor Willy Bayanga watches from the back of the room.

Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, he has been in Morocco for two-and-a-half years.

He spent several weeks living in the forests around Ceuta, one of the Spanish enclaves in North Africa.

Immigrants intercepted near Tenerife
Some 7,400 migrants have landed in the Canary Islands this year
He succeeded in breaching the security fence but was caught by border guards and thrown out. Now he lives in one of the poor quarters of Rabat, helping other migrants.

"They have no money," he says. "They have nothing.

"They can't go home - they just stay here and continue to suffer. Some of them are dying. Others are going mad from despair."

He has little hope of any progress coming from the European-African conference in Rabat.

Dangerous journey

Most of the migrants are from West and Central Africa - Mali, Senegal, Ivory Coast and DR Congo - but the International Organisation for Migration says some now come from as far away as South Asia.

They fly into Mauritania before crossing into Morocco by land, trekking inland to avoid Western Sahara and the landmines left by decades of conflict.

Then comes the most hazardous stage of the journey, the sea crossing.

Already this year, more than 7,500 migrants have reached the Canary Islands.

It is impossible to know how many have died in the attempt, but they are likely to number in the hundreds.

Some get to Morocco and find themselves stuck, unable to go on to Europe and unable to go home.

They run out of money, but to go home is to accept a humiliating loss of face. There may also be debts to pay.

"The naivety of people who have nothing to lose by leaving behind massive poverty is taken advantage of by organised crime," says Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

"It offers, for a significant amount of money - perhaps the savings of an entire village - a passage in conditions which are not likely to deliver the poor victims to the destination."

Expelled

Like Pastor Willy, Celestine is from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

She casts a surreptitious glance around for police before leading me up the flight of stairs to the single room she shares with her three daughters and 16 other migrants.

 French interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy
Mr Sarkozy called for "selective immigration"
For now, Celestine and her daughters have the room to themselves.

The men go out at first light to search for food and only return under cover of darkness.

If they're seen, they'll be reported to the police and expelled.

For now, Celestine, as the mother of three teenagers, is permitted to stay.

"I've also been expelled myself, several times, along with my daughters," Celestine says, as the World Cup final flickers in the background.

"They've been raped repeatedly during the expulsions, and so have I," she said.

"[The Moroccan authorities] are always trying to kick us out because we don't have proper papers."

We, the Europeans, have been giving so much - now the Africans have to show they have a great responsibility
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, EU External Relations Commissioner
After the murder of her husband, Celestine and her three girls fled across Africa.

She rattles off the stages of their journey - Congo-Brazzaville, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger, Algeria, and finally Morocco.

Celestine takes off her headscarf to show how her hair has gone prematurely grey.

She worries about what the future will hold for her daughters.

They are not allowed to go to school and she's not allowed to work.

New tragedy

It is only a few minutes drive from the poor quarters of Rabat, where Celestine and hundreds more like her live, to the walled complex of the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where the conference on migration is taking place.

It is a different world, and a different language.

There, the talk is of capacity-building, technical assistance and mutual co-operation.

The Africans want more emphasis on development.

Fence between Spanish enclave Ceuta and Morocco
The EU is planning a rapid reaction force to enforce border security
The Senegalese Foreign Minister, Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, says the modern outflow of migrants brings back painful memories of the slave trade.

He calls it "a new tragedy of deportation of African youth".

The French Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, says the idea of "zero immigration" is a "dangerous myth". But so, he says, is the idea of open immigration.

"You don't want to lose your elites and your youth," he tells the African delegates, "and we can't accept them all."

He argues instead for a policy of "selective immigration" - choosing the most desirable migrants to fill gaps in the labour market.

But he says France remains open to African immigration, and points out that it grants two-thirds of its residence permits to migrants without qualifications.

Occasionally, at the conference, the underlying tensions bubble up.

When Mr Sarkozy begins to speak, Moroccan officials come in to the press room and pull the plug on the video link so that no-one can hear what he is saying.

Only after several minutes of protests from journalists and a French diplomat is the sound eventually restored.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, says a mechanism for legal migration is essential. It is a question of markets, he says, and Europe needs more workers.

"Either they come legally, in an organised way, or they come illegally and they will come anyway, and there is no border policy that can avoid that."

'Eldorado'

The European Union is already increasing boat patrols along the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, in response to the growing number of boatloads of migrants washing up on the Canaries, Malta and the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Later this month, it will launch a new rapid reaction team with a remit to react to sudden crises in migration, such as the hundreds of migrants who tried to breach the fences around Ceuta and Melilla, the Spanish enclaves in North Africa, last year.

The team will reinforce border security, but will also offer assistance to stranded migrants.

"To see this linkage, between poverty, insecurity and the prospects we have to create - and the African countries are the first responsible, for their own citizens and young people - that is exactly the major element," says the EU's External Relations Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

"We, the Europeans, are the ones who really have been giving so much. Now I think the Africans also have to show that they have a great responsibility."

In the evening skies over the Rabat seafront, the swifts wheel and dive.

Morocco is on one of the great migratory routes, for birds and, increasingly, for people.

Europe is over the horizon, beyond the waves - Eldorado, they call it here.

Until Africans have the hope of a viable future in their own countries, they will continue risking their lives on the dangerous crossing to Europe.





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