There's nothing new about migrants taking risks to enter a country where they believe a better life awaits them. But with some countries narrowing their legal immigration channels, raising the bar for asylum (see Issue #9), and increasing security measures at airports and land borders (see Issue #2) in part to show they are in "control," migrants took unprecedented — and deadly — risks that captured headlines in 2005.
In the United States, where concerns about security have led to increased border policing, a record 464 migrants died in the summer of 2005 crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, more than half (260) in the Arizona desert. The 464 deaths represent a 41 percent increase over the 330 border deaths in 2004. Officials attributed the increased deaths to more than 30 straight days of 100-degree-plus temperatures in parts of Arizona and to better record-keeping.
On the African continent, hundreds of sub-Saharan Africans who had survived the journey across the Sahara stormed the razor-wire fences surrounding the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in Morocco in late September; at least five people died and several were injured. A similar attempt to enter the Spanish enclave of Melilla in early October resulted in a reported six deaths. The Moroccan government has said that because of the violent attack, security forces were forced to shoot migrants in self-defense.
Before these events, Spain regularly transported illegal migrants from the enclaves to the Spanish mainland for interviews with immigration officials. From there, the migrants could flee into the rest of the EU. Morocco has stepped up its security and has already implemented a policy of mass deportations. Amnesty International has accused both Spain and Morocco of violating migrants' rights.
According to the Europe-based nonprofit United for Intercultural Action, over 6,000 migrants died attempting to enter the European Union between 1993 and April 2005 (275 between January and April this year). The majority of them perished attempting to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa in rickety boats in hopes of landing on the shores of Italy, Spain, Greece, and, more recently, new Member State Malta.
The small Italian island of Lampedusa, just southwest of Sicily, has been overwhelmed with migrants arriving by boat — as many as 10,000 this year as of October, according to the Italian interior ministry. In an article for an Italian weekly newspaper, an undercover journalist posing as a Kurdish refugee says he witnessed a number of human rights violations at the island's migrant holding center. His allegations have set in motion a government investigation.
The situations in the Spanish enclaves and along southern Europe's coast prompted EU Justice and Security Commissioner Franco Frattini to propose creating an EU coast guard to patrol the Mediterranean. The Spanish government has already expressed its support.
Since 2001, when Australia implemented its tough policy on intercepted boats, the country has seen a marked decline in the number of such incidents. Australia's approach includes detaining people on island territories declared to be outside of the country's migration zone.
Increasing enforcement at the border, though a smart political move in the United States and Europe, clearly has consequences.
For more information, please see the following articles:
• The Global Struggle with Illegal Migration: No End in Sight
• Troubled Waters: Rescue of Asylum Seekers and Refugees at Sea
• The Changing Mosaic of Mediterranean Migrations
• Belgium's Undocumented Hold Lessons for EU
• Trafficking, Smuggling, and Human Rights
• Evaluating Enhanced U.S. Border Enforcement
• The Mexico Factor in U.S. Immigration Reform