In May this year I wrote a piece titled “The Mediterranean Shall Not Stand On The Way To ‘Promised Land’”. It was on the situation of immigrants desperately trying to cross over for a chance of a better life in Europe. The article was prompted by the sympathy for the high rate of deaths recorded in the sea bordering Europe and Africa.
The number of deaths of immigrants enroute to Europe reached the highest in the first quarter of this year. This is not a surprise considering the fact that their choice of route, the Mediterranean Sea, according to the United Nations, is the most dangerous in the world. If one can say, one good thing that came out of the large number of fatalities reported at sea, was the fact that plight of the immigrants were brought to the attention of the world. Everybody was in and concerned about the “malady” that was consuming tens of lives.
The journey to the “Promised Land” for most of them is usually in two phases. It is like stating the obvious that the two phases are fraught with immense dangers. For these immigrants who come from every corner of the African and Asian continents, particularly Syria, Eriteria, Somalia, Egypt etc, the first hurdle is the journey to the “departing station” – Libya.
Libya has become the converging point for immigrants with dreams that need fulfilment. Although many of them are fleeing from war in their native countries, they feel safe in the North African Libya, which is politically and economically unstable. In Libya, there is no security, but for a set of people, this is no deterrent to running a flourishing business. To them, the state of lawlessness in the country is what is needed to grow a business.
In Libya, people smuggling is a lucrative business. It has no regulatory or supervisory body. Just like the Mafia, it is a business operated on sheer brute and force. In business when demands exceed supplies, there is bound to be huge profits. And the “demand” for entry into Europe far exceeds the “supply” by the network of people smugglers. The resultant effect is predictable – these “notorious” business men smile to the banks with huge sacks of foreign currencies paid to them by desperate immigrants and their families. It is a dirty business. But do they care?
There are various “holding” centres in parts of the country that serve as transition camps for the immigrants. The centres are where the “exchanges” are made and “departure” times are decided with “boarding passes” handed over to the immigrants. There is no need for Customs or Immigrations officials to process them, as all they need is a “stroll” to the sea side, where they are loaded into boats and pushed out into the seas.
When desperation meets exploitation there are no rules to abide with. In this case, the middle point is the safety or otherwise of lives of human beings. The immigrants and the people smugglers are not the best of friends. While one is concerned with the end result, the “businessmen” only need the money and have no care in the world what happens to the immigrants after.
A few months after the international attention one would expect something reasonable to have been done to stem the “drift” and the deaths associated. It is unfortunate that nothing much has changed in the way and manner some of these immigrants still perish at sea. With all the high sounding proposals by the United Nations and the European Commission earlier in the year, there seems to be no end in sight for the daily dangerous trips through the Mediterranean. There were many humanitarian concerns raised by these bodies, but unfortunately they lack the political will to implement them.
Among the proposals was increased spending on the search and rescue efforts. After this, there appeared to be a bit of calm on the high seas. One can be forgiven to think that all the immigrants have been successfully shipped to Europe. The media reporting of deaths at sea seized momentarily, while attention was shifted to, according to the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, the “swarm” of immigrants that has laid ambush on Europe.
The immigrants were visible all over Europe trying to scale fences and cross border on foot. They have their dreams and their choices of destination, and no tunnel or barrier would stop them from getting over. According to latest figures released by the UN, unlike in 2014 when 219,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean to Europe, so far this year 224,000 migrants and refugees had made the journey. The agency reckoned that more than 2100 migrants have died in 2015. These are the recorded deaths.
Last week we were jolted to reality once more. And the attention shifted again to the deadly Mediterranean Sea. The media reported that a boat carrying eight hundred people capsized just a little distance off the coast of Libya. They were not ordinary people, they were immigrants who wanted to sneak into Europe in the cover of the night. As it is usual, there were casualties. There were aborted dreams, as lifeless bodies lay in the sea, and others were rescued by the Irish navy vessel, the LÉ Niamh.
This news once again renewed the attention of the world to the plights of these immigrants who are fleeing war torn countries in Africa and Asia. Many observers have been asking what the “developed” countries of the world are doing to manage this crisis and possibly find a solution to it. Unfortunately, the European countries that bear the brunt of the immigration debacle, are busy devising new ways to keep the immigrants out of their shores than how to assist them. It is saddening that with the sad situation these immigrants are, the fences at the European countries’ borders are getting higher, while sniffer dogs parade more frequently than before. Rather than come together and decide on a workable plan to end the crisis, they are playing the blame game.
Concerned at the antics of the individual countries, the European Commission last week said: “It is easy to cry in front of your TV set when witnessing these tragedies. It is harder to stand up and take responsibility. What we need now is the collective courage to follow through with concrete action on words that will otherwise ring empty.”
Observers are concerned the international community, especially Europe are not grasping the scale of this situation. Many people have condemned the world leaders for turning blind eyes to the after effect of what they caused in the countries from where these immigrants are running away. The instability in these countries have been blamed on the activities of these leaders who for selfish reasons had supported insurgencies and rebellion, but are not ready to accept the fall out of their actions.
Where is the hope for these immigrants? May be not on the shores of Europe.
Alabi is a public affairs analyst