Spanish businessmen have taken a pioneering step towards stemming the waves of illegal African migrants, by travelling to Senegal to hire workers directly and offering them an alternative to a dangerous journey in a rickety boat.
Recruits will get contracts, visas and training, instead of paying extortionate sums to trafficking mafias with no guarantee of reaching their destination. Last year around 35,000 Africans arrived on the shores of Spain's Canary Islands, but untold others drowned.
"We say to the mafias that we will fight them, and to youngsters that they must come to Spain with the help of Spanish entrepreneurs, not risk their lives in canoes," said the Interior Minister, Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, who accompanied the executives to Senegal in the first visit of its kind.
Many of the thousands of young Senegalese battling their way to Europe are among the country's brightest, whose relatives see them as a meal ticket to support their family.
Amadou, a law student in Dakar, knows the pressure that many young people are under. "I was very close to risking my life on the pirogue boats, but I realised it was a fool's errand," he told The Independent.
"But if I could go legally, I would be willing to do any sort of job, however menial. There's only a slim chance of finding a job as a lawyer here so I may at least earn good money by stacking shelves in Spain." Some 40,000 Senegalese already work legally in Spain, and ministers and industrialists alike say they are hardworking, law abiding and - in the words of the Industry Minister, Jesus Caldera - have "noble principles and desire to work".
More than 500 workers from this part of the west African coast have moved to Spain since a pilot scheme was introduced early this year, armed with a contract, a work permit and a residence permit. So far, most have ended up in Galicia as fishermen but now the scheme is to be expanded into the construction, retail, tourism and agriculture industries.
Five Spanish vocational training schools are also to open in Dakar, to provide recruits for Spanish companies and also make a dent in Senegal's 65 per cent unemployment rate.
Two of the centres will train workers for the airline Air Europa. "The company always needs airport personnel, especially for the heaviest work - loading and unloading - and to make telephone reservations," said Juan Jose Hidalgo, chairman of Globalia, a tourism consortium that includes Air Europa.
Spanish executives are also being encouraged to look for investment opportunities in Senegal - an oasis of stability with democratic credentials in an otherwise turbulent region - so that would-be migrants can find work at home.
Although increased security, including EU ships patrolling the Atlantic, have cut numbers of migrants by two-thirds this year, experts warn that sea conditions have become calmer in recent days, which may spark another exodus.
Analysts say that if illegal migration is to be seriously discouraged, the focus must be on development. "This opening up by Spain, a European country, is an important step that will benefit both sides. But as long as west Africa's socio-economic development is put on ice, then people will keep smuggling themselves overseas," said Armand Rousselot of the International Organisation for Migration in Dakar.Reuse content