(By Samuel Akpobome Orovwuje)
“In recent years, clandestine movement of people from Africa to Europe is essentially through trafficking and smuggling. Most illegal migrants borrow money from friends and family to pay smugglers to facilitate their departure but repaying these debts often becomes difficult if they cannot cross the Mediterranean Sea. The popular destinations for those prepared to take the risk of braving the seas include Italy, Spain, Tenerife and Canary Island. The question is why do most young people decide to leave?“
EVERY year thousands of desperate young Africans brave the sea in fragile small boats in search of a better life in Europe. They travel from the poverty stricken purgatory village life of Africa to hell of the high seas between Africa and Europe. Most times they die unnoticed and undocumented. But this year Lampedusa small boat disasters have received considerable international attention and elicited widespread emotional interest because they occurred in quick succession last month, claiming more than 339 lives of Africans. It was indeed a tragedy that needed media attention at home!
This article outlines some of the issues and concrete solutions to reverse the trend of people dying yearly in an attempt to cross the seas of no return to Canary Islands, Spain, Italy and other European countries for a dream improved condition of life, or ostensibly to seek asylum. The real tragedy of most African migrants is that most times, they are kidnapped, carnally assaulted and worst still, out rightly killed by smugglers.
The phenomenon of people migrating in search of safer and a more prosperous living conditions is as old as man and the right of any person to leave any country is enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But, the right of people to move freely is circumscribed by migration and border controls of receiving countries especially Europe. It is in the attempt to circumvent the strict immigrations laws that most young Africans resort to illegal means.
In recent years, clandestine movement of people from Africa to Europe is essentially through trafficking and smuggling. Most illegal migrants borrow money from friends and family to pay smugglers to facilitate their departure but repaying these debts often becomes difficult if they cannot cross the Mediterranean Sea. The popular destinations for those prepared to take the risk of braving the seas include Italy, Spain, Tenerife and Canary Island. The question is why do most young people decide to leave?
Of course, most migrants are lured by the prospect of a better future. They go to Europe to work with the hope of being able to help their families back home. They do menial jobs that Europeans would not do. Despite the assurances of good governance with consequential opening for enhanced opportunities for self-realisation, the jobs never really materialise — a failing of the various countries in Africa. As Africans we carry a share of the responsibility for the sorry state of affairs, including the toothless Africa Union (AU), the World Bank and its so called development partners, who pressed upon us Structural Adjustment Programmes and plans that have practically brought the African continent to its knees.
One of the major challenges of international migration is the selective migration policy which demands the picking and choosing of the best and the brightest, particularly those that have knowledge and expertise which Africa, the homeland of the immigrants, needs. Those who do not have the requisite skills and cannot meet visa conditions then embark on small boat journeys at great risks. Even those that have genuine desires to travel through regular means are also denied visas, thereby encouraging smuggling and clandestine movements! With the migration the development of Africa continues to suffer.
People should travel wherever and whenever they wish. Sadly enough, while Africans are denied such free movements, Africa’s leaders and politicians, particularly those of Nigeria, have open door labour migration policy that flings open our gates to all manner of charlatans from the West and Asia, in the name of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). These flood Africa, exploiting us without corresponding development indices and jobs for Africa’s teeming population. The African Union, through its leadership, does not seek to demand reciprocity which would encourage Europe and Asia to open its border to allow Africans to emigrate to work in their countries to balance the development equation in the globalisation age. The door of regular and labour migration even if it is to sweep the street and clear refuse must be opened wide!
From human rights perspective, migration and indeed, clandestine movement are inherently risky ventures. The benefits of a better future are driven by individual desire with disregard to danger and the threat to the human person and the loved ones. There is no doubt that governments throughout the world now view human trafficking and smuggling as organised crime. Therefore, efforts must be made to sanction perpetrators of such horrendous crimes. This means, in effect, that governments at national and community levels would have to focus on the organised networks to forestall recruitment of African youths for the journey of no return. It is also important that as a people we should understand the intersections between poverty, illiteracy and vulnerability to irregular movements. The disadvantaged groups are always prone to criminality.
The African Union should pay greater attention to the root causes of irregular migration among which are violent conflicts, lack of livelihood in the midst of plenty, loss of land tenure, violation of land rights, barriers to education, poverty, unemployment, human rights abuses particularly socio-economic rights and the encouragement of an open border regimes across the continent to improve trade and investment relations that will drive growth and development. Above all, adequate resources should be allocated to education rather than to political opportunism that has characterised the union in the last 50 years. Youth and adult education and vocational training need to be integrated into migration norms and protocols for safe migration within Africa and beyond.
In addition, African leaders should take a second look at globalisation and its negative impact on African women and girls, most especially, poverty that encourages the exploitation of African women in the globalised world. It remains to be seen how much appraisal of the international norms and protocols will be called forth to bring about sweeping changes to influence North Africa to Lampedusa, the sea of no return, and improve on advocacy to set the agenda for safe migration within Africa and beyond.
Orovwuje is the founder, Humanitarian Care for Displaced Persons, Lagos.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”