Spain and France have announced that they will propose a joint plan for a European-African conference on immigration at a European Union summit later this month.
Many are prepared to go to any length to enter the EU
The plan will be supported at the meeting by the French who gave their public backing to the proposal which will be presented at the summit in Britain on Oct. 27 and 28.
"France supports the Spanish idea of a European-African conference on immigration," French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said on Monday after holding discussions with his Spanish counterpart Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in Barcelona.
"All of our countries are confronted today with this question of immigration. We should treat it with courage, daring and imagination," de Villepin added.
"Spain and France will present a joint initiative at the next European Council on a global plan on a response to immigration ... which commits the EU much more than it has been up to now," Prime Minister Zapatero told the press conference.
The issue came to a head last month with a series of assaults by thousands of sub-Saharan African immigrants on fencing at the Spanish border surrounding the North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla -- Africa's only land border with the EU.
Deaths and mayhem at Spain's African border
At least 14 people have died in their attempt to leap over the heavily defended borders after trekking across vast swathes of Africa to northern Morocco. Some of them have been shot by Moroccan security forces while desperately attempting to reach a better life in Europe.
African immigrants in a transit camp near Spain
After struggling for some time to keep the waves of immigrants from swamping its borders, Spain has repeatedly called on the EU to get a grip on the roots of the illegal immigration problem by aiding the poor African countries from where migrants originate. The reasoning behind this policy being that if better opportunities existed at home, there would be less reason for migrants to risk their lives in attempting to reach the wealthy EU.
Zapatero told his French counterpart that illegal immigration from sub-Saharan Africa was an issue that concerned the whole of Africa and Europe and one that Morocco and Spain could not deal with alone.
Zapatero calls on EU to avert "humanitarian drama"
Zapatero spoke to Chirac about the immigration issue.
"Europe refuses to take the African immigrants, but Spain and Morocco cannot play the role of EU policeman on their own," a Spanish spokesman told AFP on behalf of the prime minister, adding it was "time to act" to solve a "humanitarian drama." Zapatero himself revealed that he had spoken directly by phone with French President Jacques Chirac about the issue.
As well as storming the borders around Ceuta and Melilla, thousands more African migrants take to rickety boats each year in a perilous trip to the Canary Islands or across the Gibraltar Strait to southern Spain. Many don’t make it across alive.
French PM sketches out two-pronged strategy
While Zapatero provided no details of the proposal, de Villepin hinted at a two-pronged strategy which would combine improving controls along the border regions with a development and training program in Africa.
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin.
The French prime minister added that transit countries for immigrants should also be given support in protecting their borders under a new, broad European immigration policy.
Spain annoyed some of its EU partners earlier this year by giving documentation to hundreds of thousands of immigrants who had been working illegally in Spain and then had irritated them further recently by allowing “thousands” more to enter Spain..
Neighbors "irritated" by Spanish policy
The Spanish daily ABC reported that the French and German interior ministers had complained "this week" about Spain's immigration policy, saying "25,000 illegals from black Africa have crossed the Pyrenees in the past few months" to France, Belgium and The Netherlands.
Quoting police experts, ABC said another 25,000 were still in Spain.
German Interior Minister Otto Schily
The paper added that French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy had called the Spanish government the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" in terms of immigration and called the country “an open door” while the paper quoted German counterpart Otto Schily (photo) as saying that "massive (immigrant) regularization has the knock-on effect of attracting new illegals."