Around 900 people are feared dead at sea in the busiest week of migrant crossings from Libya to Italy this year, Medecins San Frontieres said on Sunday. The UN Refugee agency estimated the number to be a little lower, at 700 but Medecins San Frontieres says the exact figure can never be known. Reuters reported that a large fishing boat overturned and sank on Thursday with many women and children on board. 25 swam to the boat that had been towing it, while 79-89 others were saved. This effectively means more than 550 people died. On Friday, 45 bodies were found and 135 people rescued from a “half submerged” rubber boat. These normally carry around 300 people. Carlotta Sami, spokesperson for UNHCR also revealed that almost 100 migrants are missing from a smugglers’ boat which capsized on Wednesday.
Why are people risking it all?
According to BBC, “Spring weather has led to the surge of people attempting the perilous crossing from Africa to Europe.” This is the immediate reason but it does not explain the root causative factors as to why people dare embark on the treacherous journey to Europe. The migrants are fleeing civil unrest, hunger and oppressive governments. To them, the migrations are risky but what is riskier is staying put and waiting to die. There has always been a somewhat mistaken conception of Europe as the land of milk and honey. Most Africans in poverty stricken areas view Europe as their figurative Canaan and the dangerous journey is well worth it. In an interview with Aljazeera, one Patrick Jabbi, a Congolese migrant said, “We all travel to get to plant a new life. We Africans believe that if you go to Europe, your life is good.”
Human Rights Watch revealed in 2015 that over 60 percent of the people who had taken the journey in the first five months of the year came from war torn countries like Somalia and the war hotspots in the Middle East or from countries like Eritrea “which is ruled by one of the most repressive governments in Africa”. Many of those coming from countries like Nigeria, The Gambia, Senegal and Mali were said to seek to improve their economic fortunes. It is a fact of the 21st century that the once lucrative agricultural industry has taken a nose dive primarily due to climate change. Time reported that the “knock-on effects (of climate change)-failed crops, ailing livestock and localized conflicts over resources-are already driving residents of the Sahel northward to flee poverty”. In yesteryears, people would have been able to migrate to Libya but considering the mess it has become due to interventionist politics, the only option is further North. There is therefore, a temptation to blame Europe for the current crisis and look away saying it is karma, but what of the oppressive regimes driving people away? What of the civil wars started by indigenous bigots who have internalised tribal hate? Everyone concerned is generally part of the cause and should be part of the solution.
Solutions: The Carrot or the Stick?
The Economist says migrants pay over $1.370 each to cross the Mediterranean to the Italian island of Lampedusa in “rickety boats”. People are parting with fortunes, essentially buying their own deaths at extortionate prices. It is easy to say the solution is dealing with the roots of the problems: the oppressive governments, the failing industries and the wars but who can proffer a sound universal remedy for all these problems? It is a complex dynamic.
Last year, European ministers devised a plan to deal with the problem. They decided they would create a central fund and VISA deals to persuade African countries to take back some migrants. Professionals from some African countries were given a free pass to Europe. This drew wide criticism as it was argued that Europe was fighting the illegal migration war by making it legal. Sandro Gozi, Italy’s Secretary for European Affairs suggested that European countries draw up a deal with North African countries to stop migrants from the Mediterranean.
The EU, in its Migration policy has resolved to “investigate, disrupt and prosecute smugglers networks”. It also suggests a “revised proposal on smart borders, financing initiatives in North Africa to help the region become stronger in search and rescue activities…”
This is a hot and cold approach striking the balance between the proverbial carrot and stick. Some countries have been explicit in their resolve to prevent the influx of foreigners by building walls. What is the ultimate solution? Is there even one to talk about?
Image credit: Daily Times