Annan Praises Iberoamerican Leaders For Focus On Illegal Immigration

Posted on Sat, Nov. 04, 2006
Annan praises Iberoamerican leaders for focus on illegal immigration

Associated Press

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay – U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan praised leaders at the 16th annual Iberoamerican summit Friday for resolving to make progress on growing illegal immigration in an increasingly mobile world community.

At an opening ceremony of the 22-nation summit, Annan told the leaders that there are an estimated 26 million Latin American immigrants, constituting 13 percent of people worldwide crossing borders to flee poverty for opportunities elsewhere.

He said the United States is the leading destination for most migrants, but that Spain, whose monarch, King Juan Carlos presided over the summit inauguration, is increasingly sought out by those fleeing hardships in Latin America, North Africa and other regions.

''International migration is one of the great issues of this century. In an increasingly globalized world there is a growing desire by peoples who wish to move to new countries,'' Annan said in a keynote speech.

Eight of Latin America's 19 leaders did not attend the summit opening, their absence marring efforts to join Spain and Portugal in a united front to call for safeguarding the rights of illegal immigrants.

Amid the absenteeism, foreign ministers at their preparatory meeting expressed ''profound concern'' over Washington's moves to build new fencing along the desert border with Mexico, saying such barriers encourage ''discrimination and xenophobia'' and don't deter the migration of undocumented workers.

The statement is subject to final approval by the leaders before the summit's close Sunday.

On Friday, foreign ministers issued declarations backing plans to widen the Panama Canal to accommodate behemoth supertankers. An Oct. 22 referendum in Panama endorsed the most ambitious overhaul of the locks since their 1914 completion.

The foreign ministers also redoubled pledges to fight terrorism and saluted the demobilization of some 40,000 members of ''illegal armed groups'' in Colombia since November 2003, backing President Alvaro Uribe's efforts to end decades of civil war.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chvez and Brazilian President Luiz Incio Lula da Silva did not attend the summit opening. The ailing Fidel Castro did not attend, either.