- The first Spanish aid package to impoverished Guinea-Bissau after irregular migrants started using the country as a point of departure has been signed. After ignoring the West African country for decades, both Madrid and the European Union (EU) now promise more presence in Guinea-Bissau, starting with technical aid to control borders.
The Ministers of Home Affairs of Guinea-Bissau, Ernesto Carvalho, and Spain, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, yesterday met in Madrid and agreed on a tighter cooperation between the two countries to stop the current phenomenon of irregular migration. The Spanish government in this pretext has pledged to donate technical equipment to Guinea-Bissau that will permit an improved control of its borders and territorial waters.
During the Madrid meeting, Spain detailed the equipment it was willing to donate. Further, Minister Pérez pledged to provide education for Bissau-Guinean police officers, in terms of fighting trafficking in their country.
With a coastline of some 700 kilometres - mostly very sparsely inhabited - Guinea-Bissau is an enormous challenge to those trying to control and fight the mafia groups standing behind trafficking operations in the country, mostly organised by groups driven out of Senegal. Given the lack of control and the large number of possible hideouts, the fragile fishing boats the leave West Africa in direction Spain's Canary Islands have transferred their main departure points southwards from Senegal to Guinea-Bissau.
Given massive Spanish and EU aid, Senegal has been able to persecute hundreds of criminal rings involved in trafficking and effectively control its territorial waters. Also, the Senegalese coastline is easier to overview. Control agencies have registered a drop in departures from Senegal, while there is a sudden increase in departures from The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau.
While Spanish authorities have entered talks with the Gambian government, yesterday's meeting was a breakthrough for relations with Guinea-Bissau. Bissau authorities have proven very cooperative, promising Madrid to act quickly and swiftly when it comes to repatriate those coming illegally to Canary Islands. Guinea-Bissau was willing to receive those rejected by Spain.
Bissau's cooperation had its price. The Spanish government - which until now did not have an embassy in Bissau - pledged to keep bilateral relations "at the highest level" and to increase police cooperation between the two countries. It is further expected that Madrid and Brussels finally will increase their development aid to Guinea-Bissau, after ignoring the impoverished country since a civil war ten years ago ruined its economy and infrastructure.
Last week, Mali finally profited from the crisis diplomacy that follows the migration flows. Also generally ignored by Madrid and Brussels for decades, the country - which is the fatherland of the largest group of West African migrants reaching Spain - secured aid programmes to improve the economy and more diplomatic representations in Bamako. Both Guinea-Bissau and Mali this year are becoming main development partner of both Madrid and the autonomous government of the Canary Islands.
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