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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Technology makes reachable the unreachable

Historically, would-be immigrants from West and North Africa made their way to Europe through Morocco, where they either tried to jump the fence into the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla or linked up with boat captains who took them across the Strait of Gibraltar to the Spanish coast. There they would jump overboard and swim for the beach.

In 2001, however, Africans in ever greater numbers began reaching the Canaries. Accurate tallies of immigrants - who make it, get caught, or die trying - are hard to come by, but Spanish government figures show that in 2001 and 2002 the number of illegal immigrants intercepted by the Spanish Coast Guard in the waters surrounding the Canaries more than doubled, from roughly 4,000 to almost 10,000.

What happened in 2001 to make the Canaries a feasible destination?

One factor was competition with modern European fishing fleets in the 1990s, which compelled Africans to build bigger boats. Another was that global positioning system (GPS) technology and the proliferation of handheld devices made high-seas navigation easier.

Chasing fish stocks is different from finding a small cluster of islands in the middle of the ocean. At least it was until battery-powered, handheld GPS units became widely available.

Over the past several years, GPS technology has become smaller, more user-friendly and - most importantly - cheaper. A simple unit costs little more than $100. And because GPS uses satellites, they work as well on Fifth Avenue as they do 50 miles off the coast of Mauritania.

Liberally taken from Geoff D. Porter
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