Smugglers pave path for migrants from Africa to Europe

Migrants attempt to open the rear door of a truck at the Brittany ferry port in Ouistreham, northwestern France, on September 18, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 18 September 2018
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Smugglers pave path for migrants from Africa to Europe

  • Migrants gather in Morocco because “it's the best place to wait for the right moment to cross” over borders with Africa
  • Europol estimates migrants pay on average €3,000-5,000 for a complete trip to Europe

MADRID: They scale barbed-wire topped fences and cross the sea in inflatable boats or jet skis — more than 36,000 migrants entered Spain this year seeking a better life in Europe. Almost all of them relied on smugglers to make the crossing. Ousman Umar, who made a five-year journey from Ghana to Spain, said it was “impossible” to travel thousands of kilometres from sub-Saharan Africa through deserts and other inhospitable areas without the aid of gangs.
“There is almost no chance of reaching Europe illegally” without paying traffickers, Robert Crepinko, the head of the human smuggling unit at Europol, the European Union's policing arm, told AFP. Ninety percent of migrants who enter Europe are helped by human traffickers, he added, citing a 2015 study.
Spain has become the main entry point for migrants arriving this year, after Italy and Greece. “The journey can last one year, two years, depending on the ring and the funds you have, because the trafficking networks will take you as far as you can pay,” Jose Nieto Barroso of the national police's human smuggling unit UCRIF told AFP.
Migrants gather in Morocco because “it's the best place to wait for the right moment to cross” over to Spain, said Nieto Barroso.
The vast majority pay for a spot on an inflatable dinghy or to take part in a mass run on the heavily fortified border fences that surround Ceuta and Melilla, two tiny Spanish territories in North Africa that share the EU's only land borders with Africa. Human traffickers charge 18 euros ($21) to try to scale the border fences, 200-700 euros to join a packed boat to cross the narrow Strait of Gibraltar separating Spain from Morocco by just 15 kilometers (9 miles) at its narrowest point, or up to 5,000 euros to make the trip by jet ski, according to Spanish police. Europol estimates migrants pay on average €3,000-5,000 for a complete trip to Europe. Once in Spain, many want to move on to wealthier northern European countries like Britain, France and Germany where they believe they will have better opportunities, or because they already have family there. Once again, human traffickers play a role in getting them there. The smugglers promise migrants they will be rescued at sea by the Spanish coast guard and then taken to migrant reception centers where “in three or four days members of the network will be in the area and get you out,” Nieto Barroso said. The gang will then take the migrants to another country or, in worst-case scenarios, pass them on to other gangs that exploit them. Women are sometimes forced into prostitution while men are used as slave labor in agriculture or made to beg in the streets. The rings “supply people. They say: 'I have 8, 12, 15 people from the sub-Sahara who can be put to work',” said Nieto Barroso.
Gangs take advantage of the “brutal collapse” of overcrowded migrant reception centers, and gain access to migrants through nonprofit organizations which work with the newcomers, he added. Paloma Favieres of the Spanish Committee for Refugee Aid (CEAR) denounced the reception Spain gives migrants as “chaotic.”
She said she notifies police whenever she believes a migrant is at risk of falling prey to human traffickers but stressed it was up to police “to fight against crime.”
“I don't get any help from the police,” she told AFP.
With migrant arrivals to Spain's southern shores on the rise, more of them are heading north to the border town of Irun, some sleeping rough as they wait to cross into neighbouring France, or to Santander, where police in August arrested two people for hiding migrants in their vehicle which was going to board a ferry bound for Britain.
Police smashed 25 human trafficking rings in Spain last year but many more remain active in Africa, recruiting more migrants.


Ruling to strike down health law puts GOP in a quandary

Updated 2 min 19 sec ago
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Ruling to strike down health law puts GOP in a quandary

  • Health care was the top issue for about one-fourth of voters in the November election, ahead of immigration and jobs and the economy
WASHINGTON: A federal judge’s ruling that the Obama health law is unconstitutional has landed like a stink bomb among Republicans, who’ve seen the politics of health care flip as Americans increasingly value the overhaul’s core parts, including protections for pre-existing medical conditions and Medicaid for more low-income people.
While the decision by the Republican-appointed judge in Texas was sweeping, it has little immediate practical impact because the Affordable Care Act remains in place while the legal battle continues, possibly to the Supreme Court.
HealthCare.gov , the government’s site for signing up, was taking applications Saturday, the deadline in most states for enrolling for coverage next year, and those benefits will take effect as scheduled Jan. 1. Medicaid expansion will proceed in Virginia, one of the latest states to accept that option. Employers will still be required to cover the young adult children of workers, and Medicare recipients will still get discounted prescription drugs.
But Republicans, still stinging from their loss of the House in the midterm elections, are facing a fresh political quandary after US District Judge Reed O’Connor said the entire 2010 health law was invalid.
Warnings about the Texas lawsuit were part of the political narrative behind Democrats’ electoral gains. Health care was the top issue for about one-fourth of voters in the November election, ahead of immigration and jobs and the economy, according to VoteCast, a nationwide survey for The Associated Press. Those most concerned with health care supported Democrats overwhelmingly.
In his ruling, O’Connor reasoned that the body of the law could not be surgically separated from its now-meaningless requirement for people to have health insurance.
“On the assumption that the Supreme Court upholds, we will get great, great health care for our people,” President Donald Trump told reporters during a visit Saturday to Arlington National Cemetery. “We’ll have to sit down with the Democrats to do it, but I’m sure they want to do it also.”
Economist Gail Wilensky, who oversaw the Medicare program for President George H.W. Bush, said the state attorneys general from GOP strongholds who filed the lawsuit really weren’t very considerate of their fellow Republicans.
“The fact that they could cause their fellow Republicans harm did not seem to bother them,” said Wilensky, a critic of President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement.
“The people who raised it are a bunch of guys who don’t have serious election issues, mostly from states where saber-rattling against the ACA is fine,” she added. “How many elections do you have to get battered before you find another issue?“
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, top policy adviser to Republican John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, said he was struck by the relative silence from top Republicans after the ruling issued.
A prominent example: “The House was not party to this suit, and we are reviewing the ruling and its impact,” said AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin
Republicans are “going to have to figure out what to do,” Holtz-Eakin said. “If it’s invalidated by the courts, it’s not ... ‘We’re going to do it our way.’ They’re going to have to get together with the Democrats in the House.”
The GOP’s failed effort last year to repeal the law showed there’s no consensus within the party itself.
Trump tweeted Friday night that “Congress must pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT health care and protects pre-existing conditions.”
“Get it done!” he told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who is expected to be speaker in January. But Trump had no plan of his own to offer in the 2017 “repeal and replace” debate.
Two top House Republicans issued diverging statements.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said “Obamacare is a broken law,” but added, “I am committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make sure America’s health care system works for all Americans.”
The third-ranking GOP leader, Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalize, praised the judge’s ruling and made no mention of working with Democrats, whom he accused of “running a fear-mongering campaign” to win control of the House last month.
The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said that if the law is ultimately overturned, then members of Congress from both parties should start over, working together. He urged maintaining provisions such as protections for pre-existing medical conditions, no lifetime dollar limits on insurance coverage, and allowing young adults to stay on parental coverage until age 26.
Democrats were united in condemning the ruling.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said voters will remember. “What will stand is Republican ownership of such a harmful and disastrous lawsuit,” Schumer tweeted.
The next chapter in the legal case could take months to play out.
A coalition of Democratic state officials led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra will appeal O’Connor’s decision, most likely to the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans.
“The legal merits of the case are frivolous,” said University of Michigan law professor Nicholas Bagley. “The notion that the unconstitutionality of an unenforceable mandate somehow requires toppling the entire ACA is bonkers.” Bagley supports the law generally, but has been critical of how it has been put into effect.