It has taken sometime to reflect on what is now generally known as the Mediterranean Migrant Crisis and to share my thoughts.
For those who aren’t familiar with this issue, which I very much doubt as it has dominated the news recently and in particular during the month of April, the ‘Mediterranean Migrant Crisis’ is in reference to migrants risking limb and life in an attempt to cross over into Europe from North Africa.
It is important to note that even though this exodus is a ‘cross over’ from Africa to Europe, these migrants are not just from impoverished and war-torn African countries but also from the Middle East, Central and South Asian countries.
One would only have to take a look at the unrest and uncertainty around the world and particularly in places like Syria, Egypt and Libya, with Eritrean nationals fleeing from repression or compulsory military service.
Somalis and Nigerians escaping from the clutches of Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram or indeed the badly managed economies of most parts of Africa. This has in no doubt left the youth with a feeling of hopelessness and it is only by putting this crisis into some perspective that one can understand and perhaps appreciate their desperation to flee.
It is very clear that for these migrants the vision they hold of Europe is that of a ‘haven’ free from wars, insecurity, injustices, hopelessness and an opportunity for a much better life.
According to the United Nations estimation, 60,000 migrants have already attempted the journey across the Mediterranean from North Africa this year.
Whilst I empathize with the numerous reasons and in most cases a genuine fear for their lives if they remained in their countries of origin , I question myself if the grave possibility of losing one’s life to the Mediterranean with the view of a better life in Europe isn’t too high a price to pay.
I guess one could argue that for those who are lucky enough to survive the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe it is a price worth paying, but is it really?
A Worsening Problem
This problem is not new but it is growing at a dangerous and frightening pace.
Last month (April) the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reported that more than 1,800 migrants died in the Mediterranean since the start of the year and that this was more than 30 times higher than during the same period of 2014. It also stated that since 2000, almost 22,000 people have died fleeing across the Mediterranean.
These figures only show the unfortunate death toll in the attempts to cross the Mediterranean Sea by migrants. What most people are unaware of is the untold deaths of migrants particularly travelling from sub Saharan Africa who risk their lives trying to cross the Sahara desert.
Their goal is to reach places like Zuwara, (a Libyan coastal town very close to Italy, hence its status as the hub for migrants) where they hope to make deals with traffickers and smugglers who put them on these ill fated and less than seaworthy boats/vessels for the final leg on their journey into Europe and most often to their deaths. Some do not make it and sadly perish in the desert.
My Friend’s Brother
I recall a phone call I received out of the blue one lovely spring evening which sent chills down my spine, I will never forget. The caller is a younger brother to a friend of mine back in Ghana, he had called from Spain. I was not at all surprised as news had reached me some ten years ago prior to that phone call that they had traveled to Europe. It was heart wrenching to hear his story.
Yes, he had also journeyed through the desert and witnessed travel companions die from the heat, exhaustion and thirst.
Finally making it to a North African country only to be incarcerated for almost two years, his crime; being an illegal immigrant. He recounted how he escaped jail with the assistance of a kind prison guard. After fourteen (14) unsuccessful attempts at crossing the Mediterranean and witnessing more deaths he finally made it and settled in Spain.
Did I hear you ask what became of him, and if he did find Europe as he had envisioned?
No, Spain’s economy was that bad with no consistent or reliable work for even the indigenous Spaniards and after unsuccessful attempts to move on to other European cities he returned to Ghana four years later.
At least he is alive and around to tell his story but it brings back my earlier question if these fatal migrant journeys are worth dying for. I don’t think so.
What Will Deter Migrants Taking Such Risks, If Any?
In as much as some people succeed and make it over into Europe in spite of the high risk of a boat capsizing and hundreds drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, others will continue to take their chance.
Sadly more will come.
As one would-be migrant who is inspired by his brother who managed to reach Switzerland two years ago put it “There’s lots of work, and I can make money and send for my family….this is why I will go….I’m scared, but I know people make it.”
Another, a 21 year old Malian on hearing of the case of the hundreds that died one Sunday in April had this to say “It scares me, but only God will decide.”
EU Response to the Crisis
Leaders of the European Union have conveyed a meeting and discussed the Mediterranean Migrant Crisis. What to do with migrants rescued and on European shores, and how to stem the flow of migration from North Africa must have dominated the agenda.
The UK is not keen on EU quota plan for housing rescued migrants in member countries and might not be bound by this proposal. Theresa May, the UK Home Secretary stated two days ago that economic migrants rescued should be returned to their countries of origin.
She went on to add that offering resettlement regardless of circumstances would only encourage more to make the ‘perilous journeys’ into Europe. What is your take on this?
Personally I agree to a great extent with the home secretary (just my opinion) and feel that leaders and politicians in countries where migrants are fleeing mainly for economic reasons need to sit up and take stock on how to better the lives of their citizenry.
Europe must also open channels of legitimate immigration that is fair and equitable across the board if we are to stop feeding the belly of the Mediterranean with migrant lives.
This is an interesting discussion on the topic …watch it here