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Tuesday, 19 March, 2002, 21:55 GMT
Destination: Europe
Thousands of people are at this moment hoping to sneak into Western Europe to start a new life. They target Europe's weak spots but tougher patrols are now turning these into places of confrontation or grim discovery.

Map of Europe showing migration flashpoints
  1. Dover: Key ferry port for cross-Channel traffic. June 2000: 58 Chinese found dead inside container.
  2. Channel Tunnel: Used by refugees from nearby Sangatte camp. December 2001: 150 caught inside tunnel.
  3. Lithuanian border: Once a key route, now controls are tougher.
  4. Straits of Gibraltar: Popular route from Africa though each year many drown. August 2001: 800 Moroccans caught.
  5. Bosnia and Herzegovina: Thousands of illegal immigrants use Bosnian corridor each month.
  6. Catania: Thousands try to cross Mediterranean every day. March 2002: 1,000 Kurds arrive packed on cargo ship.
  7. Otranto: Targeted by boats crossing from Albania. September 2001: 1,000 migrants arrive in one night.
  8. Zakynthos: The Greek coastline is vulnerable. November 2001: Crew abandons blazing ship with 800 Kurds.
  9. Greece-Turkey border: Up to 250,000 people from Africa, Middle East and Asia each year try this route.

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By BBC News Online's Rachel Clarke
line

Europe is a top destination for millions of would-be migrants who may follow the official route or turn to human traffickers to smuggle them in.

Those following the legal option may have to traipse from one grey government office to another, filling in form after form to be accepted or rejected at the end of a lengthy process.

The journey for the others who want a new country may be quicker, but their very lives are often at risk.

However tough immigration controls may be at the destination countries, there seems to be no shortage of people trying to get through them.

Roma illegal immigrants packed onto a tugboat
More than a dozen ships packed with migrants could be on the Mediterranean Sea now
The 1,000 migrants taken from the ship Monica off Sicily this week are merely the latest, most visible, in a never-ending procession of people seeking to escape persecution or poverty in their homelands.

Kurds, such as those believed to have been on board the Monica, are frequently packed onto ships which set sail from Turkey heading for the vast coastlines of Italy and Greece.

Most will have paid human smugglers for their passage, but this gives them no guarantees.

The crew of the Monica is said to have threatened to throw children overboard if the ship was turned back, while last November about 800 Kurdish passengers were left on a burning boat off Greece when the crew abandoned ship.

The land border from Turkey to Greece is also a favourite with the gangs who charge as much as desperate people are willing to pay for the promise of a new life.

Men leave the Sangatte refugee centre hoping to get through the Channel Tunnel
Would-be migrants raid the Channel Tunnel every night hoping to reach the UK
The problem is so serious - with an estimated 250,000 people trying to cross the border illegally every year - that even the old enemies Greece and Turkey came to an agreement that illegal migrants could be sent back within two weeks.

The narrow Straits of Gibraltar claim dozens of victims every year as migrants from all over Africa try to cross the final narrow 15.5km (9.7-mile) divide to Europe but drown instead.

The masses from the former Soviet bloc may not have seas to cross, but their illegal route is no easier.

Border patrol guards have become more vigilant in countries such as Lithuania and the member states of the European Union are happy to fund schemes and equipment that block the holes used by illegal immigrants.

Lithuania's action has apparently helped lead to the rise of the Balkans, and in particular Bosnia and Herzegovina, as Europe's new main road for people smugglers.

In the year 2000, about 50,000 people entered Bosnia as tourists. By 2001, 28,000 of them were unaccounted for and presumed to be in Western Europe.

At that time there were 400 crossing points out of Bosnia, of which only four were staffed.

Effective slavery

The European Union agreed to try to stem illegal immigration through the Balkans, but success is hard to gauge as no-one can know how many people sneak through.

Problems are not over even for those who do make it safely across a border.

Aside from the dangers of being forced into the sex trade or effective slavery to pay the balance of fees owed to their people smugglers, the migrants are unlikely to find a welcome from their host country's government.

Those simply seeking a better life - economic migrants - are likely to be deported while people seeking asylum from persecution at home often end up in refugee camps while their claims are considered.

Turkish coastguards cover the body of an asylum-seeker who died trying to reach Greece from Turkey
Every year scores are killed during perilous journeys seeking a new home
The San Foca Refugee Camp, near Otranto in Italy, has been home to more than 40,000 asylum seekers from 56 different countries in just four years.

Many of these people hope to continue their journey to the United Kingdom, Germany or France where they believe they will be treated better. Only 6% of asylum-seekers win their claims in Italy.

The desire to get the best kind of asylum possible is nowhere more evident than in Europe's most notorious refugee camp - Sangatte in northern France.

Every night attempts are made to get from Sangatte through the Channel Tunnel to England.

The link's operators, Eurotunnel, say about 18,500 people were caught in the first half of 2001 alone.

Two people who stowed away on trains headed for Britain have died in the tunnel already this year and at least seven people were killed trying to sneak through during 2001.

Britons were horrified when the corpses of 58 Chinese migrants were found in the back of a truck at the port of Dover in June 2000.

It is believed that the victims had made it to the Netherlands before trying to take the last fateful step to Britain.

The legal route

Legal migration is still thriving across Europe, with tens of thousands of people getting employment and residency rights each year.

Legal immigration
Russia: 21,205,582 (2000)
Italy: 143,151 (1996)
UK: 125,090 (2000)
Spain: 99,122 (1999)
France: 57,846 (1999)
Norway: 17,496 (1996)
Source: International Labour Organization

Russia easily tops the list of accepting countries, taking in more than 21 million in the year 2000, more than seven million of whom were from the Ukraine.

Italy allowed in more than 20,000 migrants each from Morocco and Albania in 1996, while Britain's largest groups of migrants came from Somalia and Pakistan in 2000.

Traipsing between grey government offices would probably be an attractive option for many of the thousands of people silently on the move, hoping to slip through to Western Europe.

But with little hope of success, there will be a trade for the people smugglers for a long time yet.

See also:

18 Feb 02 | Europe
Body found in Channel Tunnel
05 Nov 01 | Europe
Greece rescues immigrant ship
19 Sep 01 | Europe
Italy's porous borders
28 Jun 00 | Europe
Lithuania: Back door to the West
09 Feb 01 | Europe
Sarajevo: Gateway to Europe
02 Aug 00 | Europe
Italy's sexual slave trade
06 Feb 01 | Europe
Asylum seekers: Europe's dilemma
Links to more Europe stories are at the foot of the page.


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