Thursday, February 08, 2007

No Safe Haven

A fishing boat packed with up to 400 immigrants, believed to be mostly from Pakistan, has spent 4 days offshore of Mauritania while the Spanish government attempts to persuade the Mauritanian government to accept the boat. It sounds bizarre, but the situation is a product of attempts by the Spanish government to return prospective immigrants trying to reach the Canary Islands from West Africa.

In this particular case the boat got into trouble on the high seas and the Spanish maritime rescue service towed it to it's current position. Mauritania was not the country of departure, which was believed to be Guinea, and it is not at all clear what will happen to these people if they get landed there. Presumably, they set about trying to find another way to get to Spain. The Spanish government is busily opening new embassies in West Africa and is putting intense pressure on countries in the region to agree to accept returned immigrants and to try and stop boats from leaving for the Canaries. The main effect of this policy has been to push the point of departure further south, making the journey longer and more dangerous.

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