The Spanish government is encouraging businesses to recruit temporary workers from Africa in an effort to discourage illegal migration.
A delegation of Spanish employers will arrive in Senegal on Friday to recruit labour for construction work and the summer harvest.
The initiative has the backing of the Senegalese government, which sees the opening of legal channels for migration as a dignified alternative to the plight of thousands of Africans who risk their lives every year attempting the perilous crossing to Europe.
Every summer, Italy and Spain face a humanitarian crisis as thousands of Africans try to reach the Canary Islands or southern Europe.
The migration wave has led to a de facto breakdown of maritime law, with Malta refusing to accept castaways picked up by fishing vessels.
Last week the Spanish government was involved in round-the-clock negotiations with Malta and Libya after a Spanish trawler picked up 25 shipwrecked migrants and a corpse. After three days the fishing vessel was allowed to dock in Tripoli. Spanish diplomats fear that unless the flow of illegal migration is curtailed the humanitarian crisis will get worse.
After 18 months of diplomacy, Spain hopes fewer Africans will wash up on its shores this year. Madrid’s Socialist government has opened embassies in Mali, Niger, Sudan and Cape Verde, and plans others in Guinea-Bissau and Guinea. It has donated boats and helicopters to help Mauritania and Senegal police their coastline. Spain is also financing job-creating projects in African countries and, most importantly, has opened legal channels for migration.
“Prior to this legislature [which began in 2004], we had no Africa policy,” said Alvaro Iranzo, director-general for Africa, the Mediterranean and the Middle East at the Spanish foreign ministry. Spain, he said, lacked the commercial ties that France had with west Africa and was not a big donor, like Britain.
However, Mr Iranzo believed Spain was building trust with Africa by pioneering a “modern, comprehensive approach to migration”.
“What we are trying to do,” he said, “is win the co-operation of countries of origin and transit countries to find solutions in which everyone benefits. The challenge requires a multilateral approach.”
Abdoulaye Wade, president of Senegal, has upheld the model as an alternative to the position adopted by France, which has cracked down on illegal migration.
Spain is trying to persuade the European Union to adopt a common immigration policy towards Africa, but differences persist.