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. Trade Of Humans Is Big Business

"Before the conference the picture was black," says Zerouali. "Now, while it is still far from being rosy, it is no longer all black."
by Claude Salhani
UPI International Editor
Washington DC (UPI) Jul 17, 2006
Illegal immigration is a lucrative, if somewhat cutthroat business, representing approximately some $500 million per annum. This is tax-free money that goes right into the pockets of the handlers, or the so-called guides of the human cargo that flows northwards from sub-Saharan Africa like a great river of bodies.

And cargo is exactly what those poor souls represent for the scores of mafia-like networks, the majority of which, according to a security expert, come from Nigeria. The major difference -- besides the legality of the business -- is that in a legitimate business the handlers of the cargo would do everything in their power to ensure the safe arrival of their consignments.

"This is far from being the case with the sub-Saharan mafias," Khalid Zerouali, director of Migration and Border Surveillance for the government of Morocco told United Press International.

"These people don't want the immigrants in their charge to ever make it to their final destination, somewhere in Europe, typically France or Spain. They purposely loose them in the Sahara Desert and purposely over-crowd them in skimpily constructed boats they know will not make the crossing from the West coast of Africa to the Canary Islands, Spain's first footprint in Africa," said Zerouali.

The immigrants are packed into un-seaworthy vessels, loading them with two or three times as many people they should normally hold, a sure guarantee they will sink in the freezing waters of the Atlantic.

"Its horrible," said Zerouali, "It's inhuman."

Indeed, it may be both horrible and inhuman, however in terms of dollars it represents big money for the smugglers and their networks. A single immigrant can fetch as much as 10,000 euros per cycle. A cycle starts in the immigrant's home country and ends either if the handler "looses" him, which he will try to do, or if he manages to get him to Morocco. And sometimes, the same immigrant may go a second time.

Men form the vast majority of the immigrants. There are few women, say Moroccan officials, but they count for less than 2 percent or 3 percent. The few women that dare venture the trek represent more money because they can -- and often are -- sold into slavery or for sex favors along the way.

Or, they are separated from the men and sold as sex slaves, or simply raped by the handlers for two or three days while the men are told to wait in the middle of the desert, something over which they have absolutely no choice but to comply.

Morocco meanwhile, spends some 100 million euros a year fighting illicit immigration. Rabat deploys 4,500 "static" security personnel scattered along the 1,835 kilometers or 1,140 miles of coastline. Another 7,500 security agents are engaged in other types of back-up operations, including intelligence work, Zerouali told UPI.

And still, the numbers are so staggering that thousands, if not more, manage to slip through the dragnet. And at 10,000 euros apiece, a group of 50 to 80 immigrants means big money for the local mafia, the predominant and most ruthless one being from Nigeria, according to one Moroccan official.

It's the lure of easy money that tempts the handlers into doing what they do, despite the risks: Ten years if they are caught, and the death penalty if a fatality occurs among the immigrants under a handler's care.

The Moroccan government estimates there are currently several hundred networks operating at any one time. And a single network may be comprised of anywhere from three to 10 people.

The Moroccan government claims to have broken up 425 networks in 2004, 484 in 2005, and 160 for the first few months of 2006. And these are the ones we know about. Still, despite the hazards, the immigrants continue to trek north.

"They are drawn by the European Eldorado," says Zerouali, with television and the media playing a major role in attracting immigrants to Europe.

Moroccan officials estimate at 4 billion euros the annual loss of potential brain drain from the African continent.

Asked if Morocco was receiving the needed help from other countries, Zerouali says, "Officially all will tell you they are trying. But," explains the Moroccan official, "what is needed is a "global approach, a plan that will incorporate the Europeans as well as the Africans, otherwise trying to stem the flow will fail.

Africans need to be given incentives that will encourage them to remain at home otherwise the human flow will never cease. In fact, until Morocco called for an international conference to address the issue in Rabat last week, attended by some 60 countries and international organizations, the Europeans insisted on stressing security measures as the preferential method of controlling illegal immigration.

But at Morocco's behest, the Europeans eventually came around to realize that they would need to invest in Africa's future in order to safeguard their own.

"Before the conference the picture was black," says Zerouali. "Now, while it is still far from being rosy, it is no longer all black."

Source: United Press International

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