Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive

Europe, Fortress Europe

Crossing borders

On the 7th February Spain launched its three month  amnesty to some of the  800,000 illegal immigrants living in the country.  The amnesty offered by Spain’s new socialist government the PSOE  ends today 7th May and applied to all illegal immigrants who have lived in Spain since August 2004 and who hold a work contract.   The Spanish government has also said it would no longer turn back boats carrying would be immigrants from Africa.

Every year thousands of Africans –  Senegalese, Nigerians, Ghanaians, Moroccans, Mauritanians arrive in Spain either on the southern Atlantic coast or on the Canary Islands off the coast of North East Africa.  From there they disperse throughout the country to the large urban cities of Madrid and Barcelona to the agricultural heartland of Almeria province in Andalucia to small towns and villages across Spain.   They work as labourers on building sites, on the plastico vegetable and fruit plants that feed northern Europe, as street hawkers, on market stalls, in small family run businesses – all the places where no one asks questions and no one is accountable and where payments are made in cash. 

I have spoken to some of the men and their stories put together briefly go something like this.  There are four ways of getting to Spain from Africa via the Moroccan coast.  The first by boat known as the "death route" where you pay 1000euros to cross the Straits of Gibraltar at 2/3am in the morning.  50 people all crouched down and squashed into a small 9 meter speed boat.  Sometimes the wait for the boat can be for hours and sometimes you may not travel on the designated day.  One you arrive you are literally thrown off the boat before it gets to shore and basically left to fend for yourself.  If you are lucky the traffickers contact in Spain will meet the boat and help you get to a safe house.  Alternatively you may be picked up by Cruz Roja – the Spanish Red Cross and taken to a kind of holding center whilst you are medically examined and provided with food.  Or you could just be left to find your way.  Whatever happens you are very soon on your own but the people I spoke to all said it was not to difficult to find fellow immigrants and of course most people have a phone number to call.

The second way is by lorry from Tanger where again you are crouched in darkness in a small space between whatever load is being carried.  This costs 3000 euros.  The wait again can be for hours in the hot sun and there is a danger of suffocation from the heat and lack of air.  Then there is the 3 hour ferry ride across the Straits and another 3 hour wait on arrival in Spain whilst immigration and customs do their job.   Money passes hands between the traffickers, the Moroccan and the Spanish authorities.  Everyone knows what is happening.

  The third and fourth ways ae probably the safest but take the longest, are complicated and costs the most.  8000 euros buys you a bona fida work contract.  If you  have a friend or relative who is already in Spain, he or she will make contact with a trafficker who arranges the whole deal.  The final way also requires a friend or contact in Spain and involves using false papers on a number of levels.   Once you have a contact in Spain say either a friend or relative they arrange through a trafficker to send you their papers.   Once you receive these you change the photo (the papers are not sophisticated) and the trafficker forges the exit stamp on the papers.  You then enter Spain with the trafficker who delivers you to your friend or relative.  The problem with this one is that on delivery the trafficker may ask for more money than initially agreed and threaten to report your relative to the police.   Also the this method is somewhat easier for Moroccans and Algerians than for Africans coming from further south. 

Those who received the amnesty over the past three months would most likely  have come in one of these ways.  Over the next few months I hope to do some more work on this and talk about what life is like once here.

Spain’s human rights record 2004 Report

Guardian Report – 9th May 05


  1. This is an interesting posting Owukori. I saw a brief news report this past weekend on the amnesty program offered by the (new) Spanish government and many of the immigrants pictured in the piece looked pretty happy to have a chance to finally get their residency and work permits for Spain.

    The news story ended with a guy from Mali who had beeen working (illegally) for a Spanish employer for years and was desperately trying to reach his Spaniard boss by phone to come down to the registration center with his (promised) work permit. The employer never showed up and the Mali guy lost out on the amnesty deal.

    This whole thing with human traffickers is a very dirty and deadly business of course, all over the world. One question I always have when reading about the illegal trafficking of people to Europe and elsewhere is:

    Where do the immigrants and refugees get the money (Euro 1,000 – 10,000 and more) to pay off all of these traffickers and their support people along the way? Many of these people are escaping from terrible poverty in countries where the average income for much of the population is less than 2-3 U.S. dollars a day, so where does the money come from?

    Ask your immigrant contacts that question please the next time you get a chance to talk with them. I have a feeling that the answer in at least some cases may be quite shocking, that the people left behind back home may be the ones who really have to payoff the debts.

  2. It is complicated and depends on what method you take to reach Spain. For example in the latter two which require contacts in Spain the money would most likely be paid by the Spanish contact who would have saved up until s/he had sufficient monies – also note these are the two more expensive methods. The first method which costs 1000€ (from what I know but will clarify) is that people save up and remember a family member who gets to Spain or anywhere in Europe will be supporting many people at home so whatever monies they “deposit” on behalf of the “immigrant” will get paid back. Also in many cases the first set of traffickers are in the country of origin so they will get their money when it is sent home. You have to realise that the process from the very start of deciding to actually getting to Europe is a long one that could take up to three years for some people. People are sent back from countries they pass through on their way to Morocco.

    I feel for the Malian man. Just to see the faces of those who get their papers is something special. When I have had to go and get my own papers (there everyone has to have an ID number, Spanish, EU citizens and everyone else) has been a long drawn out pain of coming and going for weeks on end. In the end I got sick of it and paid a solicitor to do it for 100e but then I can afford to do that, most immigrants cant. So they go and loose day after day of work and therefore pay just to queue up for their papers. Also Spain is a corrupt country – bribes are paid all along the way (not in my case I might add though who knows what my solicitor had to do!) And from what I have heard Italy and the Eastern block countries are just as bad corruption wise.

  3. Very interesting post! I like your informative blog!