Spain PM Vows To Fight Illegal Immigration

Spain PM Vows to Fight Illegal Immigration

The Associated Press
Wednesday, July 12, 2006; 12:29 PM

SANTA CRUZ DE TENERIFE, Canary Islands — Spain's prime minister promised an all-out campaign to halt illegal immigration from Africa during a visit Wednesday to the Canary Islands, where thousands have come to escape grinding poverty.

“The government will spare no human, material or political resources to control illegal immigration, curb departures in the countries of origin and cooperate with countries of sub-Saharan Africa,” Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said after meeting with local government officials.

Zapatero later toured two holding centers on the Spanish islands just off Africa's west coast, asking immigrants about their health and the harrowing trips they made to get here.

At one of the facilities, African men interrupted a lunch of hamburgers and vegetables to cheer the premier in gratitude for the way they have been treated in Spain, officials said. The visits were off-limits to the media.

Zapatero was also to visit a port where many Africans are brought when caught making the long, dangerous odyssey from northwest Africa in small, crowded boats.

The Spanish government says more than 11,000 Africans from some of the continent's poorest countries have made the journey to the Canary Islands so far this year, more than double the number for all of 2005. More than 1,000 are reported to have died attempting the voyage since late last year.

Zapatero's visit comes a day after a European-African summit in Morocco on how to stem the tide of African migration. The meeting produced a wish list of measures for fighting the poverty that prompts Africans to flee countries stricken with drought and corrupt governments.

After a particularly big wave of arrivals here in May, Spain elicited a promise from the European Union to send boats and planes to help patrol waters off the Canary Islands and deter Africans from traveling here.

Initially the aid was to be for just a few months. But EU officials now say it is open-ended, and the aircraft and vessels will start surveillance operations July 18, Adan Martin, the Canary Islands president, said after meeting with Zapatero.