Representatives of 35 countries have reaffirmed their commitment to regulate migration flows from the developing south to the industrialized north in order to curb the trafficking of human beings across the Mediterranean Sea.
Delegates that took part in a two-day government meeting in Portugal agreed on everything that must be done in particular to prevent the trafficking of women, who often fall prey to prostitution and sexual exploitation networks. They also agreed to strengthen the channels of legal migration.
The village of Albufeira, in the southern Portuguese region of Algarve, hosted the first Euro-Mediterranean conference on migration November, 18-19 2007.
The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (Euromed) is made up of 25 of the 27 European Union countries and 10 Mediterranean partners: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey. Libya has held observer status since 1999.
The interior ministers and other government representatives announced Nov. 19 that the EU would introduce training courses for migrant workers, pre-departure professional training and language courses for potential migrants, information campaigns on legal migration and labor opportunities available in the countries of destination, as well as programs and activities for new legal immigrants.
The main aim of these initiatives is to facilitate the flow of legal immigrants from non-EU Mediterranean countries and bolster their social and professional integration, according to the ministers, who also decided to create a joint working group to carry out an in-depth study of the labor situation and of the labor market’s need for migrants.
The Algarve, whose name comes from al-Gharb, which means “the West” in Arabic, is the region with the strongest northern African influence in Portugal.
The main aims of the meeting were to improve management of migration, fight trafficking in human beings and strengthen opportunities for legal migration, economic development and cultural exchange.
The final declaration said cooperation among all Mediterranean countries is essential in order to stiffen border controls and obtain concrete results. Despite the upbeat tone of the final document, non-EU countries complained of “brain drain” from North Africa to Europe.
Tunisian Minister of Social Affairs Ali Chaouch, who spoke with reporters after the meeting along with Ahmed El-Kewaisny, the coordinator of the group of Arab countries in Albufeira, said the countries of the Maghreb–Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania–“need their brains.”
With respect to economic questions, special emphasis was put on the remittances sent home by emigrants, an important source of revenue for the countries along the southern edge of the Mediterranean. Emphasis was also placed on microcredit, a mechanism that is becoming more and more important as a curb on migration to the EU.
Euromed recently released a study based on 2004 data that showed the largest flows of expatriate remittances from the EU go to the Maghreb, especially Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, while the main source of those flows are Spain, Italy and France. Morocco is by far the leading destination, receiving $4.2 billion in remittances in 2004, followed by Algeria, with $828 million, and Tunisia, with $228 million.
In recent years, European civil society organizations have loudly criticized the EU’s lack of flexibility with respect to migration flows from Africa and have called for measures such as temporary worker programs.
In one of the latest tragedies, 56 Africans trying to reach Spain’s Canary Islands starved to death, were either killed or committed suicide when they found that the cans that supposedly carried fuel were actually full of water. Only the Senegalese skipper was found alive in late October in the boat, which had drifted south of the Cape Verde islands.
Portugal’s Serviço de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF) has launched the “You Are Not For Sale” campaign aimed at fighting trafficking in persons.
The typical victim is a young woman from the developing south or from central or eastern Europe who is lured to a rich country by a trafficker with promises of a decent, well-paying job. Once there, her passport is seized and she is forced to work as a prostitute to pay off the debt she incurred in order to be smuggled into the country.
The U.S. State Department’s seventh annual “Trafficking in Persons Report,” released in June, said “Portugal is primarily a destination and transit country for women, men, and children trafficked from Brazil, Ukraine, Moldova, Russia, Romania, and to a lesser extent Africa. The majority of Brazilian female victims are trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation.”
The report added that Portugal “does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so.”
Adapted from: Mario de Queiroz, "Countries confront human trafficking."
17 December 2007.
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