Thursday 10 March 2011

A holiday camp for tourists, a deportation camp for poor people

We start with some figures. About 2 million people live on the Canary Islands. On average, the islands handle about 9.5 million tourists per year. This substantial tourist industry contributes over 32% of the Islands’ GNP. The entire accommodation sector consists of roughly 172,000 hotel beds and roughly 242,000 overnight places other than hotels. These figures represent interesting multinational flows, links and connections, but seldom determine the media coverage.

What has come to determine the news are the following figures. In the last few years, between 20,000 and 30,000 boat people have come to the Canary Islands from various parts of Africa and increasingly from Asia.

Estimates differ, but a few thousand people are thought to have died in their attempt to reach the Spanish islands. And the Canaries are by no means an exception among touristically popular southern European shores in being increasingly a destination for travellers without papers these days. In the Mediterranean the Italian authorities intercept 20,000–30,000 people annually. The majority arrive in Sicily and on the island of Lampadusa. Others become stranded in Calabria, Puglia and Sardinia.

In recent years the shores of Greece have seen a growth in the number of travellers without papers as well.

Now we ask the following. On what grounds do we make a holiday camp for the tourists and a deportation camp for the boat people? Why do we erect a monument when tourists die—the monument constructed for the Dutch fatalities of the 1977 air disaster on Tenerife is a good example—and not for the African and Asian travellers without papers who died on their journeys? What legitimizes this different valuation of human lives?


The solution to migration is not higher walls but let impoverished countries develop

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